Introduction to Planetary Mapping

Alexandra Davatzes, Temple University
Author Profile


This is an introduction to photogeologic/geomorphologic mapping of a planetary surface. The goal of this project is to help students learn the components of a geologic map and try to use all of their undergraduate experience to try to make interpretations about the relative timing and geologic history of a location on the moon.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This is used in an upper level undergraduate planetary geology course. I have modified it slightly so that there is a basic introduction to lunar geology- just enough to help the students succeed in this project.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Sed/strat, and basic Steno's laws; some basic understanding of planet interior and volcanism.

How the activity is situated in the course

It is at the start of my course- it is the second lab that I use, and I often give them 2 weeks to complete it.

Activity Length

Approximately 1 day.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Learn the basics of planetary mapping with a real example. Focus here is not on structural deformation. Volcanic embayment is the major concept that tends to be difficult in this lab.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The goal is to try to order the processes and develop a geologic history of the region, so it involves a synthesis of the geologic processes and requires students thinking about things in a slightly different way then they might for a terrestrial map. It appears quite simple at the outset, but students find it is more complicated once they delve into it.

Other skills goals for this activity

Optional to use JMARS for access of additional datasets. I use this for graduate students or honors students in my course.

Description and Teaching Materials

Introduction to planetary mapping (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 503kB Apr27 20)

Kepler Key, scrambled (Acrobat (PDF) 5.5MB Apr27 20) 

Technology Needs

Students will need the JMARS tool.

Teaching Notes and Tips

I print these maps and have the students work off of full printouts, but this can also be done virtually.


Students must complete all questions in the assignment, and provide reasonable explanations for the decisions and interpretations they make. I generally take off the most points when students make interpretations without any evidence to back it up. I use this early lab to reinforce this idea and work on observational skills before they get into more complex projects.

References and Resources

Harald Hiesinger and James W. Head III (2006) New Views of Lunar Geoscience: An Introduction and Overview, Reviews in Mineralogy & Geochemistry Vol. 60, pp. 1-
81. DOI: 10.2138/rmg.2006.60.1

Comment? Start the discussion about Introduction to Planetary Mapping