User’s Guide to Planetary Image Analysis and Geologic Mapping in ArcGIS Pro

Techniques and Methods 11-B14



Geologic maps are valuable tools in planetary science. Though planetary geologic maps are similar to terrestrial (Earthbased) geologic maps, the nature of planetary exploration introduces unique challenges for geologic mappers. Terrestrial geologic mappers prepare products from field-based observation, often comparing or refining those with aerial and (or) orbital images. Planetary geologic mapping relies almost exclusively on remote observations, which are made by orbiting spacecraft. Therefore, with a few exceptions for locations with rovers, landers, or crewed surface missions, planetary geologic mappers are not able to observe their map area in detail or at smaller scales. As a result, they must interpret and describe their map features differently than those used in terrestrial geologic maps. For example, terrestrial geologic mappers commonly divide units by lithology (rock type) or grain size. However, planetary geologic mappers often do not have detailed enough information to know what type of rock or grain size is present, and instead must divide the planet’s surface into geologic units using differences in tone, color, and surface texture (at multiple scales). Cross-cutting relationships, where apparent, can provide excellent—and often crucial—observations for identifying and subdividing geologic units using orbital datasets. The process of creating planetary maps has evolved over time, from original hand-drawn maps created during the early 1800s through the late 1900s, to the fully digital products created today. Modern-day planetary geologic mapping uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software and tools to visualize data, delineate units and landforms, and accurately convey spatial relationships to a map user using cartographic features represented by points, lines, and polygons. This tutorial was written to familiarize both new and experienced planetary geologic mappers with ArcGIS Pro, a commonly used GIS software package developed by Esri. This tutorial introduces new planetary geologic mappers to fundamental concepts and best practices in planetary geologic mapping. For mappers with experience using ArcMap (a previous version of ArcGIS), this tutorial will help to familiarize users with new changes in layout and functionality, so current projects may be migrated into the ArcGIS Pro environment. No prior knowledge is required, although a general familiarity with geology, GIS, and planetary science is recommended. This tutorial includes links to helpful glossaries of common GIS terms and other GIS and planetary science resources in appendix 1. For additional information on planetary geologic mapping, see the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) Astrogeology NASA Planetary Geologic Mapping Program website and the Planetary Mapping Guidelines. Numerous ArcGIS tutorials are also available from Esri’s Tutorials page, through the Esri Academy catalog, and Esri’s ArcGIS Pro Resources page.

Suggested Citation

Black, S.R., 2023, User’s Guide to planetary image analysis and geologic mapping in ArcGIS Pro: U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods 11–B14, 180 p.,

ISSN: 2328-7055 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Background
  • Learning Goals and Objectives
  • Required Files and Preparation
  • Exercise 1: Introduction to ArcGIS Pr
  • Exercise 2: Working with Rasters
  • Exercise 3: Working with Vectors
  • Exercise 4: Analyzing Data for Threshold Criteria (Landing Site Selection)
  • Exercise 5: Creating Map Layouts and Products
  • Appendixes 1–3
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title User’s Guide to planetary image analysis and geologic mapping in ArcGIS Pro
Series title Techniques and Methods
Series number 11-B14
DOI 10.3133/tm11B14
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Astrogeology Science Center
Description vi, 180 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details