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A map that's out of this world!

Difficulty: Moderate

Duration: 90 minutes

Materials: Moderate

Download the PDF version (481 KB)


In the crew of Apollo 8 became the first people to travel around the dark side of the Moon. Astronaut William Anders took the famous picture Earthrise during that mission. Nature photographer Galen Rowell called Earthrise "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken." Viewing the planet from that far away had a huge impact on the environmental awareness of people back on Earth. In fact, the inaugural Earth Day was held the very next year.

Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut David Saint-Jacques credits photos of our home planet taken from the Moon with sparking his interest in becoming an astronaut when he was a child. He was moved by the new perspective he gained from those photos. Since that time, Canada has contributed to Earth observation with satellites that monitor many environmental issues including ice floes, farmland and natural disasters.

The Canada from Space Giant Floor Map was born out of a partnership between Canadian Geographic Education, the CSA, and Ingenium (formerly known as the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation). As the first of its kind, this map is composed of images taken by the Canadian satellite RADARSAT-2, which orbits Earth to collect data related to sea ice extent, the movement of icebergs, agricultural outputs, pollution management, ecosystem health, and much more.

To create this map, hundreds of RADARSAT-2 images, taken in , were superimposed and stitched together. It is unlike other maps of Canada in that it incorporates vivid colours to distinguish between parts of the country that have different human and natural characteristics. However, since many different data sets were used to create this map, the colours do not follow an organized pattern, meaning the yellow in the North may not mean the same things as the yellow somewhere else.

Here lies the challenge (and the fun!) of using this map to explore the geography and topography of Canada. You and your students can take a stab at analyzing this map, deciphering the different colours, identifying patterns and trends, and developing your own version of a legend. Consider yourselves part of the ongoing and ground-breaking research and analysis that expert scientists do day in and day out.

Earthrise. (Credit: NASA)

Mission description

Students will use the Canada from Space Giant Floor Map to learn about the importance of Earth observation satellites in providing radar data to support scientific research and a deeper understanding of Canada, its lands, its oceans and its people. The Giant Floor Map can be reserved for free from Canadian Geographic Education for a period of three weeks during the school year (and will come as part of a kit containing the map, a teacher's guide, coloured pylons and chains, and activity cards). Alternatively, a smaller tiled version of the map and the teacher's guide can be downloaded and printed. Teachers can choose between 17 different activities in the teacher's guide, which range from a general introduction to mapping, to the detection of natural disasters, to the tourism industry in Canada's North. The activities are designed such that students will be guided through a series of hands-on learning exercises rooted in observation, critical thinking and problem solving. Students will gain extensive knowledge in the practice of Earth observation and the use of radar data to interpret changes on Earth's surface.


Breakdown DurationTable note 1
Introduction to the activity of choice 15 minutes
Development of basic knowledge 35 minutes
Discussion of central themes and conclusion 25 minutes
Extension of geographical thinking 15 minutes
Total 90 minutes


Students will develop their spatial awareness and critical thinking skills, as well as their understanding of Earth observation from space, by performing a series of activities on the Giant Floor Map (or in conjunction with the Tiled Map).


By the end of this mission, students will be able to:

Mission preparation


Please refer to the list of materials associated with each individual activity in the teacher's guide. For the Giant Floor Map activities, all materials will be provided.

Mission instructions

Visit Canadian Geographic Education's Canada from Space Giant Floor Map website and refer to the teacher's guide for detailed instructions specific to each of the 17 activities. We suggest beginning with activity one (a general introduction to mapping), two (an activity using Chris Hadfield's photographs), and nine (coastal observation). To order a Giant Floor Map kit, teachers must sign up to be a member of Canadian Geographic Education. The Tiled Map and activities are available to download for free.

Mission participation

Order Canadian Geographic Education's Canada from Space Giant Floor Map or print your own copy of the Canada from Space Tiled Map.

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