spaceSpace and PhysicsspaceAstronomy

Incredible New Images Show What's Inside The Solar System's Largest Canyon

ESA’s Mars Express just delivered fantastic new views peering into Mars’s Valles Marineris.


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

Alfredo (he/him) has a PhD in Astrophysics on galaxy evolution and a Master's in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces.

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

True color image of Ius Chasma (left) and Tithonium Chasma. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin
True color image of Ius Chasma (left) and Tithonium Chasma (Right). Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

The surface of Mars is cracked by an enormous rift valley, Valles Marineris, the largest known system of canyons in the Solar System. On Earth, it would span from the northernmost tip of Norway to the southern tip of Sicily, or almost from one coast of the US to the other. New images have revealed some spectacular views of the inside.

This incredible geological feature continues to reveal more and more to the orbiters we have placed around the Red Planet. Now, the European Space Agency (ESA) has released images taken by its Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), which allowed not only new detailed observations of this great canyon but a 3D reconstruction.

A digital terrain model image of the crags inside the Mars's Valles Marineris
This oblique perspective view of Tithonium Chasmata was generated from the digital terrain model and the nadir and colour channels of the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express. Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

The new images focused on two major trenches (or chasma) that form part of western Valles Marineris. The southern one is the 840-kilometers-long (520 miles) Ius Chasma, and north of it is the 805-kilometer (500 miles) Tithonium Chasma.

The crags and cliffs of the Valles Marineris on Mars
Another perspective of Tithonium Chasmata. Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

The images are stunning but the fantastic detail comes from the ability of HRSC to deliver elevation maps. These trenches are 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) deep and 3D reconstructions show incredible new details of these extremely deep scars on the surface of Mars.

The views show dark sand dunes, mountains that can rival the Alps in height, as well as mounds of sulfate minerals. One hotly debated theory suggests that these formed when the chasms were filled with water, eons ago. Tectonic features and the effects of billions of years of erosion have crafted an incredible environment in this enormous valley.

If you want a really trippy view, dig out your 3D red-green or red-blue glasses and check out this stereoscopic image of both the Ius and Tithonium Chasmata.

3D stereoscopic of Mars canyon
Grab your 3D glasses for this trippy view of the great chasmata on Mars. Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Mars Express has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2003, mapping and imaging its surface, probing beneath its crust, and even identifying the composition of its thin atmosphere. There's a lot it can see and do and reveal without ever touching down on the surface.


spaceSpace and PhysicsspaceAstronomy
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