Ordnance Survey Tries Its Hand at a Mars Map and the Results are Amazing

Ordnance Survey is known for their intricate British maps. But their latest map takes them from rolling green hills to the desolate, cratered surface of Mars. The map below shows the Western Arabia Terra region of Mars at a scale of 1 to 4 million. The area covered is 3672x2721km. You can see the landing sites of the Mars Pathfinder and the Opportunity rover.

Ordnance Survey mars map

Check out their Flickr account for more.

And for ‘The Martian’ fans, Acidalia Planitia (top left) and the Schiaparelli crater (bottom right) are featured. Mark Watney’s would have been navigating in style with this map.

How Ordnance Survey made this map

The mapping agency’s Cartographic Designer Chris Wesson spent a few months designing the map. One of the hardest parts for Wesson was wrapping his head around the NASA data.

Wesson explains:

“A lot of the area of the map is at a minus elevation. My over-simplistic understanding is that this is because the zero level is what would hypothetically be mean sea level if there was enough water on Mars to equate to Earth.”

“Mars is a very different topography to the Earth to map. The surface is very bumpy but at such a large scale I had vast expanses of land that appeared flat relative to the craters each of several thousands of metres depth, hence the need for different lighting and surface exaggerations.”

You’ve probably noticed that the map doesn’t exactly scream Mars when you look at it. Why isn’t it redder? Wesson gives us a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making a map.

“The key ingredients to this style are the soft colour palette of the base combined with the traditional map features such as contours and grid lines, and the map sheet layout complete with legend,” says Wesson in a press release.

The Mars’ map can’t just be red because it makes it harder to differentiate the features seen on the map. Plus, red would make it harder for us to see overlays such as the distance marker and names.

A map for future Mars’ missions?

“We were asked to map an area of Mars in an OS style because our maps are easy to understand and present a compelling visualisation, and because of this we can envisage their usefulness in planning missions and for presenting information about missions to the public,” said David Henderson, OS Director of Products.

Now, they just need to make a map for Pluto.

Ok, back to Mars. What mission could it be used for? One of the next missions to Mars is the ExoMars mission. It’s a joint Europe/Russia mission to deliver a rover to the Martian surface. The rover’s main mission will be to look for organic material signatures from the red planet’s ancient past.


Ordnance Survey’s map of Mars is a joy to look at. Hopefully, they’re open to working on maps for other planets or moons in our solar system. A Pluto map showing where Sputnik Planum meets the mountains would look damn good on my wall.