ESA's Mars Express Orbiter delivers mesmerizing images of the Red Planet's mighty canyon

What will the spacecraft do next?
Loukia Papadopoulos
Lus (left) and Tithonium (right) Chasmata on Mars.ESA

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2003 to image its surface. Just last April, it beamed down images of the planet's Utopia Planitia, a major basin in Mars' northern hemisphere that is approximately twice the size of the Sahara Desert and is largely covered in ice.

A mighty canyon system finally imaged

Now, it has released some new pictures, and they are more mesmerizing than ever. "The latest image released from ESA’s Mars Express takes us over two ruptures in the martian crust that form part of the mighty Valles Marineris canyon system," states a press release by ESA.

Valles Marineris has been compared to the Grand Canyon in the United States, except that the latter is much smaller than Mars' version. At a whopping 2,485 miles (4,000 km) long, 124 miles (200 km) wide, and up to 4.3 miles (7 km) deep, Valles Marineris is almost ten times longer, 20 times wider, and five times deeper than the Grand Canyon. It is, in fact, considered the largest canyon system in the Solar System, and it is believed to have formed through the drifting apart of tectonic plates.

ESA's Mars Express Orbiter delivers mesmerizing images of the Red Planet's mighty canyon
Source: ESA

In ESA's new images, the two trenches (or chasma) that form part of western Valles Marineris can clearly be delineated. "On the left (south), is the 840 km-long Ius Chasma, and on the right (north) is the 805 km-long Tithonium Chasma. Whilst these high-resolution images show incredible surface detail, it is only when we look at an elevation map (see above) that we realize how spectacularly deep the chasmata are – up to 7 km! At 4809 m, the Alps’ tallest mountain, Mont Blanc, would be dwarfed if it was put inside Tithonium Chasma," adds ESA in its press release.

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ESA's Mars Express Orbiter delivers mesmerizing images of the Red Planet's mighty canyon
Source: ESA

Other features also showcased

Other features that can be seen in the images are sands that may have come from the nearby Tharsis volcanic region, mountains rising more than 3000 meters (1.8 miles) in height, water-bearing sulphate minerals, and recent landslides. The pictures are delivered in a variety of colors and shades, each showcasing a different feature of the planet's and the canyon's rich surface.

ESA's Mars Express Orbiter delivers mesmerizing images of the Red Planet's mighty canyon
Source: ESA

The images are a treat not only for Mars aficionados but for all who love space and its many wonders. They offer an inside look at a surface we will never get to experience firsthand and bring it to life in a way that makes us feel as if we are there.

But that's not all Mars Express does. In the past, the spacecraft has spotted icy lakes under Mars's surface and has even attempted to listen to China's rover. Clearly, the small but mighty spacecraft has many tools under its belt. What can we expect next from ESA's advanced space exploration tool? Only time will tell. 

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