It’s almost 10 times long as the Grand Canyon, and three times as deep. But how was it formed?
About 87 million miles/140 million kilometres above the Grand Canyon, an even bigger, impressive abyss cuts through the gut of the Red Planet. Popular as Valles Marineris, this system of deep, vast canyons runs more than 2,500 miles/ 4,000 km along the Martian equator, spanning almost a quarter of the planet’s circumference. This laceration in the bedrock of Mars is almost 10 times long as Earth’s Grand Canyon and three times deeper, making it the single largest canyon in the solar system. According to ongoing research from the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson, it’s one of the weirdest.
Applying an amazingly high-resolution camera called HiRISE ( High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, UA scientists have been snapping close-up shots of the planet’s peculiar features since 2006. Despite some truly breathtaking images of Valles Marineris, posted to the HiRISE website on Dec. 26, 2020, scientists are still uncertain about the formation of the grand canyon complex.
Dissimilar to Earth’s Grand Canyon, Valles Marineris possibly wasn’t carved out by billions of years of rushing water; the Red Planet is extremely hot and dry to have ever accommodated a river large enough to slash through the crust like that. But, European Space Agency (ESA) researchers have claimed that there is evidence that flowing water may have deepened some of the canyon’s present channels hundreds of millions of years ago.
Most part of the canyon may have cracked open billions of years ago when a close super-group of volcanoes called the Tharsis region was first thrusting out of the Martian soil, the ESA opined. As magma bubbled up below these monster volcanoes, which include Olympus Mons, the biggest volcano in the solar system, the planet’s crust may have easily stretched, ripped and finally collapsed into the troughs and valleys that form Valles Marineris today, according to the ESA.
Evidence reveals that subsequent landslides, magma flows and even some ancient rivers may have contributed to the canyon’s repeated erosion over the following aeons. Further research of high-resolution photos like these will help conclude the puzzling origin story of the solar system’s grandest canyon.