I wanted to open a discussion on GIS beyond Earth. Here are some questions so far.

  1. Would the term GIS be changed to something else since the term "geo" means of Earth (e.g. Lunar Information Systems or Martian Information Systems...etc)?

  2. Are there specific software packages for handling non earth data/coordinate systems?

  3. What are some current web map applications displaying non earth data besides Google Earth's Moon and Mars viewers (e.g. http://webgis2.wr.usgs.gov/Lunar_Global_GIS/)?


9 Answers 9


Starrynight: http://www.starrynight.com/
It's a very nice software, it displays other planets and the universe.

enter image description here

I found this paper too: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2005/pdf/2213.pdf


Nasa WorldWind displays non-earth data for many planets.


As for "Are there specific software packages for handling non earth data/coordinate systems?" there is NAIF SPICE provided by JPL. This has very accurate coordinate systems etc to cover surfaces of nearly all interesting celestial bodies as well as their relative positions and motions. It's not very closely tied to GIS, as techniques to gather the data and its applications are different.

SPICE is great if you're able to program in C, Fortran or IDL but it does not provide handy GUI apps for non programmers (not last time I checked) You might find useful apps provided by various planetary science research groups, universities etc. (Beware googling irrelevant results such as for cooking, and the "spice" circuit simulators used in electronics.)


Google Earth does have Mars and Moon modes:

enter image description here

  • Asker's third question (with my bolding) was "What are some current web map applications displaying non earth data besides Google Earth's Moon and Mars viewers".
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 10:49

Also Stellarium. Just came across is today while installing ubuntu.



Check out Celestia. I think it includes solar systema and galaxy centric coordinate systems.



Marble also as some off-earth modes!


To answer the questions in order asked:

  1. Yes. The generic term is simply 'data system', but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's spatially focused, much less support spatial searching & visualizations. eg, the Planetary Data System (also see IPDA). We also have the various 'virtual observatory' efforts that take try to make data available from multiple projects in a discipline (see IVOA for astronomy, HPDE for Heliophysics), but not all of those focus on spatial visualization (eg, VSO only does data finding & retrieval, Helioviewer and other tools do the co-alignment and visualization).

  2. SPICE has already been mentioned ... but you also need to deal with image projections. As much of the remote-sensing communities use FITS for storing the files, we also the World Coordinate System to describe the projection of the images such that they can be reprojected for co-alignment.

  3. You're limiting your question by specifically saying 'map'. For solar physics, the two main tools (which share a data backend) that support image-coalignment are Helioviewer, a web-based tool and jHelioviewer a Java application with additional functionality. If you're working with single FITS images, you also have SAOImage / DS9.

    But they aren't necessarily dealing with 'map' type projections -- solar and astronomical telescopes are closer to plane-of-sky, and when you reproject them to a map, you loose a lot of detail. If you take a look at the STEREO Project's website, the '3D Sun' is built by projecting the images into a carrington map, then mapping it onto a sphere ... and you lose all of the filaments, loops and other structures on the solar limb. It's still useful for outreach, so they generate data for Science on a Sphere, but I don't know of any solar physicists who use these for day-to-day tasks. (although, I'm working with some others on re-cataloging a bunch of partial sun images from heliocentric to heliographic so that we can build a coverage database that's not dependent upon the observer location).

(and the disclaimer, if it's not obvious -- I work in solar physics, and have contributed to a few of these projects.)


Related to software: GRASS GIS (http://grass.osgeo.org/) supports also other planetary earth systems. See for example:

Frigeri, A, Hare, T, Neteler, M., Coradini, A, Federico, C, Orosei, R. (2011). A research environment for digital planetary data processing and mapping using ISIS and GRASS GIS. Accepted by Planetary and Space Science (DOI | PDF)

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