Spellbinding Photos of Mars Canyon That Would Stretch from NY to LA

A view of Tithonium Chasma, part of Mars’ Valles Marineris canyon | ESA

The European Space Agency has released stunning images of the enormous Valles Marineris canyon taken by the Mars Express.

Valles Marineris cuts across Mars like the Grand Canyon cuts across the United States, except the Martian canon is 20 times wider and five times deeper than the American landmark.

The Martian canyon is 2,485 miles long, over 124 miles wide, and more than four miles deep, dwarfing the Grand Canyon. The Valles Marineris could be found from New York City, on the east coast of America, to Los Angeles on its west side. It is the largest canyon in the entire Solar System.

While scientists know that the Colorado River formed the Grand Canyon five million years ago by eroding away rock, researchers are unsure how the Valles Marineris was formed. One theory is that it is due to tectonic plates drifting apart causing a huge “crack”, but another is the belief it was created by ice melting into rivers. While a further theory is that the canyon is actually a large channel made by lava flowing from the flank of Pavonis Mons.

A view of Tithonium Chasma, part of Mars’ Valles Marineris canyon | ESA
Valles Marineris
The Ius and Tithonium Chasma, part of Mars’ Valles Marineris canyon | ESA

The images captured by the European Space Agency (ESA) show two trenches that form part of western Valles Marineris. The Tithonium Chasma is also known as this. Unfortunately, these photos don’t do justice to the depth of the chasm as Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in the Alps, wouldn’t reach the summit ridge.

At the top of Tithonium Chasma, a patch of dark sand — that may have come from a nearby volcanic region — brings color contrast to the image. Next to the dark sand dunes are light-toned mounts that rise more than 9,800 feet in height. For perspective, Mount Hesperus in Alaska rises to 9,828 feet.

The Mars Express

Mars Express
Artist rendering shows the Mars Express spacecraft.

The Mars Express, launched in 2003, has a High Resolution Stereo Camera which has a resolution of about 10 meters. Select areas can be imaged with a resolution of two meters. One of its greatest strengths is the accuracy in pointing, which it achieves by using images from two resolutions. It can also 3D-image, which reveals the topography of Mars in full color.

So-called because of its relatively short interplanetary voyage as it was launched when the orbits of Earth and Mars brought the two planets closer than they had been in about 60,000 years.