Since 2003, the Mars Express mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) has been orbiting the Red Planet to take pictures of its surface. It only recently sent down photographs of Mars’ Utopia Planitia, a significant basin in the planet’s northern hemisphere that is entirely covered in ice and about twice the size of the Sahara Desert.
Finally, a powerful canyon system was photographed.
It has recently made some new images available, and they are more captivating than ever. According to a news statement from the ESA, “the most recent photograph from Mars Express takes us over two ruptures in the martian crust that form part of the massive Valles Marineris canyon system.”
The Grand Canyon in the United States has been likened to Valles Marineris, however the latter is significantly smaller than Mars’ equivalent. Valles Marineris is nearly ten times longer, twenty times broader, and five times deeper than the Grand Canyon, measuring a staggering 2,485 miles (4,000 km) long, 124 miles (200 km) wide, and as deep as 4.3 miles (7 km). It is thought to be the greatest canyon system in the solar system, and it is thought to have originated as a result of tectonic plates migrating apart.
The two trenches (or chasma) that make up the western Valles Marineris may be distinguished in ESA’s latest pictures. “The 840 km long Ius Chasma is on the left, and the 805 km long Tithonium Chasma is on the right. Although the surface detail in these high-resolution photographs is remarkable, it is not until we view an elevation map (see above) that we fully appreciate how incredibly deep the chasmata are—up to 7 km! If Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, were placed inside Tithonium Chasma, its 4809 m height would be dwarfed, “ESA added in the press statement.
Additional features were displayed.
Sands that may have originated from the adjacent Tharsis volcanic region can also be seen in the photos, along with mountains that rise more than 3000 meters (1.8 miles) above sea level, water-bearing sulphate minerals, and recent landslides. The images are provided in a range of hues and tones, each displaying a unique aspect of the canyon’s and planet’s diverse surface.
The pictures are a pleasure for everyone who enjoys space and all of its wonders, not just Mars enthusiasts. They give us a glimpse into a world that is hidden from us and bring it to life in a way that makes us feel as though we are there.
But Mars Express accomplishes more than that. The spacecraft has previously discovered frozen lakes beneath Mars’ surface and even made an attempt to hear China’s rover. It is obvious that the little but strong spacecraft is well-equipped. What is the future of the sophisticated space exploration technology developed by ESA? Time will only tell.