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New Mars View Peers Into Largest Canyon in the Solar System

Grander than the Grand Canyon.

Two large chasms cut into the beige-brown landscape in a top-down view from Mars Express spacecraft.
 Ius and Tithonium Chasmata are two impressive parts of Mars' massive Valles Marineris canyon system.
ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

When it comes to canyons, Mars goes hard. Valles Marineris is the largest canyon system in the solar system. It stretches across 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers). On Wednesday, the European Space Agency delivered a gorgeous new look at the canyon it described as "almost ten times longer, 20 times wider and five times deeper than the Grand Canyon."

This image places the Mars Express view of Ius and Tithonium Chasmata in context with a larger section of Valles Marineris.

NASA/MGS/MOLA Science Team

ESA's Mars Express spacecraft zoomed in on two intriguing chasms, Ius Chasma and Tithonium Chasma. These impressive trenches make up part of the canyon and extend as deep as 4.3 miles (7 kilometers). For comparison, the Grand Canyon in the US is a little over a mile at its deepest point.

The section seen in the ESA image is just a small part of the canyon system. Mars Express captured the image in April 2022. 

ESA's tour of the chasms highlights landslides, dark sand dunes, mountain-size mounds that've been eroded by wind, and smaller bumps that may be connected to long-ago evaporation of water.  

This annotated version of ESA's Mars Express view of Ius Chasma and Tithonium Chasma points out mounds, landslides and dark dunes.

ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Unlike the Grand Canyon, Valles Marineris wasn't created by a river. Some evidence of its formative years can be seen in what the ESA calls its "gnarly floor." 

"As tectonic plates pulled apart, they appear to have caused jagged triangles of rock to form that look like a row of shark teeth," the space agency said. "Over time, these rock formations have collapsed and eroded."

The canyon is a fascinating place for more than just its size and looks. ESA has found evidence of water ice there. Future human visitors would need to make use of water resources that are already on the planet, especially if they intend to stay long-term.