Valles Marineris, also known as Mariner Valley, is a vast, expansive canyon covering a quarter of Mars’ equator. The 2,500-mile-long canyon is so large that it has been deemed the largest canyon in our entire solar system.

A new photo captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in late December shows just how beautiful and massive the canyon truly is. The photo is of Tithonium Chasma, part of Valles Marineris. It shows the canyon and diagonal lines of sediment that may reveal cycles of ice freezing and melting.

Scientists aren’t only taking photos of Valles Marineris because of its size; it’s also because we still aren’t exactly sure how it formed. Unlike the Grand Canyon on Earth that was developed over billions of years by large amounts of rushing water, Mars was always too hot and dry to accommodate that.

The new image of Valles Marineris captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

The current thinking is that most of the canyon was likely formed via a super-group of volcanoes called the Tharsis region. Magma underneath these large volcanoes could have stretched and cracked Mars’ crust. This, followed by magma flows, small rivers, and landslides over eons of time, definitely could have formed what we call the largest canyon in our solar system.

Via Live Science

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