If you thought the Grand Canyon of the United States was one of its kind, then you probably have not seen the Grand Canyon of Mars.
Valles Marineris of Mars is the grand valley that extends over 4,000 kilometres long and 200 kilometres wide and delves 10 kilometres deep, making it the largest canyon in the solar system.
A close-up image of Valles Marineris’ Tithonium Chasma, which is 810 kilometres long, might give you an idea of how massive and intimidating this natural structure is.
The image of the chasma was taken in 2013 by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It was recently featured as the HiRISE Picture of the Day as new images from ongoing research at the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the origin of the Valles Marineris remains unknown, however one theory suggests that it started as a crack billions of years ago as the planet cooled. Astronomers have identified several geologic processes in the canyon.
According to European Space Agency (ESA), the canyon’s formation is most likely linked with the formation of the neighbouring Tharsis bulge, which is home to the largest volcano in the Solar System, Olympus Mons.
There are also signs of volcanic activity in the region which is revealed by the nature of the rocks in the walls of the canyon and the surrounding plains, which were built by successive lava flows, says ESA.
In its first billion years, the Tharsis bulge swelled with magma and the surrounding crust stretched. This process ripped apart and eventually collapsed into the massive troughs of the Valles Marineris.
The various geological processes that might have shaped the Grand Canyon of Mars also include imposing of extensional forces, landslides, mass wasting, and strong water flows.
Due to extensional force, intricate fault patterns have developed in the valley, while landslides have shaped the northern troughs. Delicate erosion of the highest part of walls was created by mass wasting and strong water flows have reshaped the valley, making it deeper.
Data on mineralogical information collected by ESA’s orbiting spacecraft indicates that the terrain of Valles Marineris was altered by water.
Another image shared by HiRISE on Tuesday shows an exposed ejecta west of Hargraves Crater in Mars.
The Hargraves is located between the two largest valleys of Nili Fossae in the Northern Hemisphere of Mars. The image was captured by THEMIS and Context Camera images.