8 Fun Facts about Valles Marineris

18 January 2013 by Troy McConaghy, posted in Astronomy


Mars as seen by the Viking 1 Orbiter. Valles Marineris stretches across the middle.


When tourists go to Mars, they'll surely visit Valles Marineris, a big system of canyons sometimes called the "Grand Canyon of Mars." But that doesn't do it justice. Why?

1. It's the longest system of canyons in the Solar System, at over 4000 km long. If you were to drive a car at 100 km/h (60 miles per hour), it would take you over 40 hours to drive the length of Valles Marineris. It would be like driving from Madrid to Moscow.

In a canyon!

2. Valles Marineris is Latin for "Mariner Valleys." It's named after the Mariner 9 Mars orbiter (which sent back images of Mars from 1971–72).

3. There have been many hypotheses about what formed Valles Marineris. Was it carved by flowing water? Carbon dioxide ice glaciers? Maybe there was a massive melting of permafrost (underground water ice and carbon dioxide ice)? Was there magma under the surface that flowed somewhere else, causing a surface collapse? Were volcanoes involved? Or is it mostly rift faults, akin to Earth's East African Rift (formed as tectonic plates move apart)?

4. It reaches depths of up to 7 km. (The Grand Canyon gets about 1.6 km deep.)

5. It runs very near the equator of Mars.

6. The western end is called Noctis Labyrinthus, the "labyrinth of the night." It's like a maze of valleys (shown below, on the left side of the image).

Western Valles Marineris

Western Valles Marineris, image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech


7. If you go back to the Mars globe image at the top of this post, you'll see that there are two distinct canyons leaving Noctis Labyrinthus (heading East, or towards the right on the image). The thin one on top is called Tithonium Chasma. The thicker one on the bottom is called Ius Chasma.

If you walk East along Ius Chasma, you'll walk through Melas Chasma, then Coprates Chasma, and then you'd be at the end of the Valles Marineris, where it empties out into a plain known as Chryse Planitia ("the golden plain").

There are other canyons in Valles Marineris, most notably Candor Chasma, a big canyon north of Melas Chasma.


Eastern Valles Marineris

Eastern Valles Marineris, image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech


8. Huge landslides have happened on the canyon walls, carrying material more than halfway across the bottom of the canyon (as seen in the image below).


Valles Marineris landslides



I imagine some future scientists will spend their entire professional lives exploring Valles Marineris. There's a lot to explore!

Suggested Further Reading (and Viewing!)

Hartmann, William K. A Traveler's Guide to Mars. Workman Publishing Company, 2003.

There's a wonderful set of animated Mars flyover videos on YouTube, posted there by MARS3DdotCOM (their YouTube username). I gather that the videos were generated using 3D modeling and rendering software, based on data from NASA. For example, there's a video of a simulated flight through Candor Chasma (part of Valles Marineris).

Image Sources

All images are courtesy of NASA or NASA/JPL-Caltech (where indicated in the caption).

About this Blog

Outer Spacing is a blog about space exploration and development. It's written by Troy McConaghy (@TroyMc on Twitter).


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