See the Solar System’s Biggest Canyon Up Close: Mesmerizing Mars Photos

Recently released images from the European Space Agency (ESA) furnish an awe-inspiring new perspective of Mars.

The photos combine digital terrain models and color channels from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on board the ESA’s Mars Express Spacecraft. The razor-sharp, breathtaking images focus on two trenches, the lus and Tithonium Chasmata (in this context, trenches are also called chasma).

The two chasma form a part of the Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars. And together, they’re the biggest canyon in the solar system.

a color digitally generated image of a chasm on Mars

Photo: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin


Looking at the lus and Tithonium Chasmata without something for scale can be deceiving. The sizes at play are actually titanic. The Valles Marineris is the largest canyon in our solar system at 4,000km long, 200km wide, and 7km deep in places. That’s deep enough to swallow the biggest mountain in the Alps and larger than the Grand Canyon by many orders of magnitude.

In fact, it contends with the United States itself in some dimensions.

valles marineris

Image: NASA


The ESA has some analysis of the images on its website. The photos include evidence of tectonic plate activity, erosion, landslides, and volcanic sand.

A color-coded topographic map of the lus and Tithonium Chasmata

A color-coded topographic map of the lus and Tithonium Chasmata. Photo: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin


A history of discovery

This isn’t the first time that the Mars Express has delivered the goods. In 2018, the spacecraft famously discovered evidence of liquid water hidden underneath the Martian polar ice caps. The Mars Express has been orbiting Mars since 2003.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
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