Spotlight on Outreach – Virtual Planets Atlas and Virtual Moon Atlas
July 31, 2017

In 2002, keen amateur astronomer, Christian Legrand, and software specialist, Patrick Chevalley, started work on developing the Virtual Moon Atlas (VMA) –  a freeware to support observations of the Moon and as a tool for public engagement with Earth’s satellite. Over the past 15 years, the project has had more than 1.7 million downloads from users all over the world and has evolved to include a database with nearly 60 000 entries of features and formations on the Moon’s near and far side. Textures include maps from space missions, historical textures permitting easy comparison of work by astronomy pioneers with present data, and a range of scientific overlays, including gravity, temperature, geology, altimetric data, and various chemical elements.

In 2014, Legrand and Chevalley launched the Virtual Planets Atlas (VPA), initially providing atlases on Mercury, Venus and Mars using data from International Astronomical Union (IAU) nomenclatures, NASA and ESA planetary missions, United States Geological Survey (USGS) & JPL mapping works and from amateur astronomers. An update in December 2016 expanded the project to include Jupiter and its four Galilean Moons.  Currently, VPA 2.0 is available for Windows, Linux and Mac 0S, and is available in English and French.

The next versions of the atlases are planned for 2018. The VMA will include better textures and updated and increased databases, including more than 80 000 craters. The VPA will include the dwarf planet, Ceres, and planet Saturn, its rings and major satellites Mimas, Thetys, Dione, Rhea, Titan and Iapetus.

Legrand, a retired engineer, formely of the French Ministry for Industry, says, “It is a lot of work for us, but it’s so exciting!”

VMA Pro 6 main screen showing new UHR LRO texture and new “Anonymous craters” database.

For more details, contact Christian Legrand.