Third Place

Jordan Valen, Middlebury College
Third Place, $600

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United 
      States Constellations Map

While brainstorming ideas for the Bizarre Maps Competition, I was at first resistant to depicting yet another map of the United States (there are thousands of the things, honestly). It’s a map that we’ve been seeing in every election, New York Times special report, and geography class since we were children. However, when I had my ‘eureka’ moment while looking at some star maps that I own, I realized there is no better geographic area to depict in this interesting, bizarre way than the one we’ve all seen thousands of times.

“The United Constellations of America” map is bizarre because it shows our country and some basic infrastructure therein (roads) in a fresh, novel way. It borrows conventions normally used for depicting features of the sky on a constellation map, and turns our normal perspectives of the earth and land features upside-down – you’re now looking at the stars and sky that make up our country!

The map was created using a simple ESRI city dataset (that includes population values) and road maps collected from Google Maps. I used only the most frequently used north-south and east-west interstate highways in the country for simplicity. The stars are scaled based on population size of the city they represent (see map legend for details of class breaks). I used a simple United States-specific Albers Equal Area projection. The initial organization of data was completed using ESRI ArcMap.

A number of stylistic considerations went into the creation of this map to make it resemble a star map as closely as possible. These operations were all completed using Adobe Illustrator. The labeling of the cities incorporates the commonly used star map feature of Greek letters (used to label lesser stars near a larger explicitly-named star). The interstate highways are shown as simplified straight constellation lines between their major city hubs. The states are shown using the same dotted-line convention that is used to designate constellation boundaries on a star map. I also included a 5-degree graticule to mimic the lines of declination and ascension that are included on most technical star maps.

While this map is rather simple and more of a stylistic design project, I think it is interesting and valuable because it shows a very familiar geographic area in a new light. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making it.