New Mars images explore into the depths of the Red Planet’s Valles Marineris canyon, the solar system’s largest canyon system.
The images taken by the European Space Agency (ESA) using the spacecraft’s High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) also show incredible detail on the canyon floor. In contrast to the Grand Canyon, which was carved by the Colorado River, Valles Marineris is thought to have formed as a result of tectonic plates drifting apart. As seen in the new images, the violent movement at the Martian surface created a jagged canyon floor.
“The gnarly floor of Ius Chasma is equally fascinating,” ESA officials wrote in the statement accompanying the new images. “As tectonic plates pulled apart, they appear to have caused jagged triangles of rock to form that look like a row of shark teeth. Over time, these rock formations have collapsed and eroded.”
The European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mars since 2003, has zoomed in on two trenches that are part of the western Valles Marineris: Ius Chasma and Tithonium Chasma. The images not only capture incredible surface detail, but also highlight the trenches’ impressive size.
According to the ESA, Valles Marineris is 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) long, 124 miles (200 kilometers) wide, and 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) deep — nearly ten times longer, 20 times wider, and five times deeper than the Grand Canyon.
The lus Chasma on the canyon’s south side is 522 miles (840 kilometers) long, while the Tithonium Chasma on the canyon’s north side is 500 miles (805 kilometers). The Grand Canyon, by comparison, is 277 miles (446 km) long and just over a mile deep at its deepest point. According to the statement, Valles Marineris would stretch from the northern tip of Norway to the southern tip of Sicily on Earth.
Various spacecraft studying Valles Marineris have discovered evidence that liquid water once filled the canyon. The Mars Express mission discovered water-bearing sulfate minerals near Ius Chasma and Tithonium Chasma, while the ExoMars mission’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) discovered water ice beneath the surface of Candor Chaos, near the center of the massive canyon system.
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