Known as ‘l”Valles Marineris,” the canyon system spans over 2,500 miles across the Martian equator (the distance between Los Angeles and New York City), accounting for nearly a quarter of the planet’s circumference, USA Today reports. According to the site, scientists are using an ultra high-resolution camera to study how the geological formation came to be.
The special camera is called HiRISE (short for High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) and it’s positioned aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; scientists at the University of Arizona have been using it to take close-up shots of the planet’s strangest features since 2006, Live Science reports.
Recently, the university released a series of astounding photos of Valles Marineris that display some of the formation’s most impressive details, USA Today reports. One of the images was recently uploaded to twitter:
Behold the largest known canyon in the solar system! Mars' Valles Marineris is ten times as large and three times as deep as the Grand Canyon.— Russ McSpadden (@PeccaryNotPig) January 5, 2021
: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona pic.twitter.com/xYWYe11Y5S
The University of Arizona has a webpage that is solely dedicated to the HiRISE camera. The site posts one HiRISE photo every day and has done so since Dec. 1, 2018. You can view the entire gallery here. The HiRISE official Twitter account also posts photos regularly:
HiPOD: Light-Toned Deposits along Coprates Chasma Slopes— HiRISE: Beautiful Mars (NASA) (@HiRISE) December 25, 2020
Valles Marineris contains kilometers-thick light-toned layered sedimentary
deposits along many of its floors. In this image, we find similar deposits along wallrock slopes in Coprates Chasma.https://t.co/hggCXZgTex pic.twitter.com/TUnhFN8nrj
Unlike our Grand Canyon, Valles Marineris probably wasn’t carved out by rushing water, Live Science reports. According to the site, the planet’s climate is too hot and dry to have ever accommodated a river large enough to create such an impressive ravine.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), a majority of the canyon probably formed billions of years ago when a group of nearby super-volcanoes (known as the Tharsis region) was first breaking through the planet’s crust, Live Science reports. According to their theory, the enormous amount of volcanic event could have caused a split in Mars’ crust that initially created the ravine, and millions of years of weathering and erosion could have expanded it.
According to USA Today, future analysis of high-resolution photos like these will provide scientists with more clues to solve the puzzling origin story of the solar system’s grandest canyon.