Eleanor Lutz is a graduate researcher at the University of Washington. She is also an incredible designer of infographics, which she shares on her blog Tabletop Whale. Her latest project is called Atlas of Space and features 10 stunning maps of planets, moons, constellations, and other heavenly bodies.
She releases each map individually alongside the code she used to create it and a tutorial for people to recreate the designs. The first map she posted dives right into the stunning complexity of our Solar System, highlighting how it brims with objects big but mostly small. The map shows the orbits of more than 18,000 asteroids in the Solar System, which include everything bigger than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) across, about 10,000 objects, plus 8,000 randomized objects of unknown size.
The map shows where each object was on New Year’s Eve, 1999. To craft this map, Lutz employed a combination of NASA data and data available to the public. But turning the data into the map wasn’t as straightforward as one might think. The orbits of the smaller members of the Solar System are quite complicated.
"The inspiration behind the Atlas of Space was really a combination of several different ideas. During the past few years I learned to use Python for my PhD research, and I wanted to work on a design project that included a coding element. I also really like astronomy data in general - a lot of it is open access, and since the datasets are so large I think that the design challenges in visualizing the data are particularly interesting," Lutz told IFLScience.
A curious fact that you might not know, that Lutz points out in the post, is that on the map Pluto is on the orbit of Neptune. This is not a mistake. The reason for this is that Pluto’s orbit is very elliptical and for about 20 Earth years, it is closer to the Sun than Neptune. It was like this between 1979 and 1999.
The map also shows the names of a huge number of objects as well as the main categories that we use to classify asteroids. Lutz tried to include the name of the important objects but as space was running out (a very ironic problem), she only included the ones with the best names. Among them are Moomintroll and Sauron.
Lutz recently released a second map showing the topography of Mercury. This beautiful map looks both like an ancient map from the Renaissance and something that a future space captain would have hanging in their ship's briefing room. The code and tutorial associated with this map include the codes to map the Moon, Venus, and Mars. A third map, released today, shows the geology of Mars.
You can check out Lutz's amazing blog and tutorials here.