A truly awesome idea, from Harvard postdoctoral fellow Samuel Arbestman:
Urban transit maps are wonderful tools: they are guides to traveling, they serve as mechanisms for distilling and abstracting a city down to a set of linkages and interconnections, and they are beautiful. The first 'modern' subway map is London's Tube Map, designed by Harry Beck. Since then, many cities have based their transit system map designs on its spare and elegant layout, such as Boston, New York, and Amsterdam.
In addition, these maps have been used to understand other, more idea-based, inter-relationships, such as modern music, creative and important people in history, web trends, and even the locations of all the subways in the world.
Here, I have attempted to do the same thing for our galaxy, the Milky Way. Our galaxy is unimaginably vast, and we really have no idea what is out there. We are discovering new planets in other star systems all the time, learning new facts about the galactic core, and even learning about whole new portions of the galaxy. This map is an attempt to approach our galaxy with a bit more familiarity than usual and get people thinking about long-term possibilities in outer space.
Hopefully it can provide as a useful shorthand for our place in the Milky Way, the 'important' sights, and make inconceivable distances a bit less daunting. And while convenient interstellar travel is nothing more than a murky dream, and might always be that way, there is power in creating tools for beginning to wrap our minds around the interconnections of our galactic neighborhood.
You can view a larger PDF here. You can buy MWTA merchandise (including a T-shirt) here!