The Largest Canyon in the Solar System

If you’ve ever hiked through the Grand Canyon on Earth, it’s hard not to be envious of the ten times longer and five times deeper one on Mars. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express recently captured breathtaking images of Valles Marineris, which stretches across 2,500 miles and is 7 miles deep.

Valles Marineris

The largest canyon in the solar system is Valles Marineris, a rift that cuts a wide swath across Mars. It is more than four thousand kilometers long, and 10 times deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon.

New images of this canyon taken by ESA’s Mars Express orbiter reveal the complex layered terrain within it. The canyon walls are steep and ridge forming, which is likely due to mass wasting processes.

Throughout the picture, there are also signs of recent landslides. The canyon’s rim is covered in dark sand from the nearby Tharsis volcanic region.

It’s still unclear how this canyon formed, but most scientists agree that it’s the result of a tectonic “crack” in the Martian crust billions of years ago. As the planet cooled, the crack widened. Erosion and collapsing of the rift walls also caused the canyon to form. Scientists think that magma flows, landslides and even ancient rivers helped deepen the canyon over time.

2,500 miles long

The mighty Grand Canyon in Arizona is an impressive sight to behold, but it’s “just” a scratch compared to the massive Valles Marineris gorge on Mars. Stretching 2,500 miles across the red planet, this chasm would almost reach from New York City to San Francisco if it were on Earth.

It’s estimated that this solar system’s largest canyon formed billions of years ago when a super-group of volcanoes known as the Tharsis region was first breaking through Martian soil, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). That massive amount of magma probably ripped apart the crust in the area and created the troughs and valleys that make up the Valles Marineris today.

Now, ESA has released breathtaking images of this colossal gorge that help scientists gain a better understanding of its complexities. These pictures, captured by the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, show the canyon in detail.

125 miles wide

The Largest Canyon in the Solar System

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