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Stunning images show Martian labyrinth in vivid detail

Plateaus, trenches and landslides from the Noctis Labyrinthus region on Mars are clearly visible in a newly released image from the Mars Express spacecraft.

Noctis Labyrinthus!

It might sound like a spell uttered by Harry Potter, but it is, in fact, an area on Mars. Translating evocatively as "labyrinth of the night," the geologically varied area is found on the western side of Valles Marineris, a deep canyon that's as long as the United States, plunges to depths of 4 miles (7 kilometers) and runs for about 20 percent of the circumference of the Red Planet.

The European Space Agency (ESA) on Thursday released striking images of a part of the Noctis Labyrinthus region taken by its Mars Express craft in July.

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Landslides can be seen coming down off the top of a Martian plateau known as a graben in this image taken by the high-resolution stereo camera aboard the ESA's Mars Express spacecraft.

Photo by ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

In the shots, large flat plateaus known as graben stand amid deep trenches. From the sides of the graben, landslides are clearly visible, dribbling down large indentations.

The region shown in the image measures approximately 75 miles (120 kilometers) wide.

The labyrinthine network of plateaus and channels was created by geological upheaval in an area known as the Tharis region caused by volcanic activity and the shifting of the planet's crust. Tharis is home to Mars' giant Olympus Mons volcano, the largest known volcano in the solar system.

"As the crust bulged in the Tharis province it stretched apart the surrounding terrain, ripping fractures several kilometers deep and leaving blocks stranded within the resulting trenches," the ESA said in a statement.

The ESA launched the Mars Express in June 2003 and it went into orbit around the Red Planet in December of the same year. The spacecraft ejected a lander known as the Beagle 2 that was to explore the Martian surface, but the lander went missing. It was spotted again in January 2015 by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Although the lander failed to deploy correctly, the orbiter has continued on its mission to provide high-resolution images of Mars.

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