Astrogeology Science Center

The Grandest Canyon on Mars

9 June 2017

There has always been a fascination with canyons, their beauty, size, and history. Many people travel long distances to see and to explore these nature-made wonders. Mars’ magnificent Valles Marineris canyon, for example, would be a place we canyon lovers would pack up and go see --if it wasn’t so far away. Thanks to planetary missions, we have pictures of this canyon that is 2500 miles-long and 5 miles-deep in some places. We have our imagination. We have Corey Fortezzo who maps geological features of this canyon-and describes it such that—when it is all said and done--we might feel we have been near it.  We may have thought we felt texture, and certainly the next time we hear the name Valles Marineris, it will seem oddly familiar.

HiRISE image of Valles Marineris mapped by USGS (credit: NASA/JPL/UA)

"Valles Marineris (VM) constitutes the largest canyon system in the Solar System and has a complex history. It consists of interconnected and enclosed troughs that extend from the Tharsis volcanic complex to the southern circum-Chryse outflow channels [1]. The central portion of VM (CVM, Fig. 1) includes the deepest of these troughs.

Within the CVM troughs occur the thickest exposed sections of (a) layered wall rocks on Mars, mostly lavas and other early crustal rocks [2-3], and (b) interior layered deposits (ILD), generally thought to be of sedimentary or volcanic origin [4].  The trough floors are extensively covered by landslides, fans, and eolian deposits. In addition, they appear locally dissected by channel networks, denuded by possible flooding process, and include patches of fractured terrain development."

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By Janet Richie