How Did Valles Marineris Form?
How Did Valles Marineris Form?
ESP_025415_1675  Science Theme: 
This image (and its companion for stereo) crosses an impact crater about 50 kilometers (30 miles) wide. The crater was visible in Mariner 9 and Viking Orbiter images acquired decades ago, and was interpreted as evidence that the floor of Coprates Chasma was an old surface like that of the surrounding plateaus north and south of the canyon, and had dropped more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) as a huge intact block of crust.

However, this image and others acquired by MRO reveal a geologically young crater, with far fewer superimposed craters than the high plateaus, and well-preserved primary impact morphologies. This crater must have formed after the opening of Valles Marineris, and is not evidence, by itself, that this portion of the canyon system formed from simple downdrop of a giant intact block.

The opening of Valles Marineris did involve crustal spreading and faulting, but may have had a more complex history. Many of the large landslides in Valles Marineris could have been triggered by this impact event.

Written by: Alfred McEwen (audio recording by Tre Gibbs)  (25 April 2012)

This is a stereo pair with ESP_026259_1675.
Acquisition date
28 December 2011

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
266.0 km (165.3 miles)

Original image scale range
53.2 cm/pixel (with 2 x 2 binning) so objects ~160 cm across are resolved

Map projected scale
50 cm/pixel and North is up

Map projection

Emission angle

Phase angle

Solar incidence angle
53°, with the Sun about 37° above the horizon

Solar longitude
49.5°, Northern Spring

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  97°
Sub-solar azimuth:  41.6°
Black and white
map projected  non-map

IRB color
map projected  non-map

Merged IRB
map projected

Merged RGB
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RGB color
non-map projected

Black and white
map-projected   (405MB)

IRB color
map-projected   (238MB)

Black and white
map-projected  (194MB)
non-map           (189MB)

IRB color
map projected  (75MB)
non-map           (244MB)

Merged IRB
map projected  (405MB)

Merged RGB
map-projected  (361MB)

RGB color
non map           (217MB)
Map-projected, reduced-resolution
Full resolution JP2 download
Anaglyph details page

B&W label
Color label
Merged IRB label
Merged RGB label
EDR products

IRB: infrared-red-blue
RGB: red-green-blue
About color products (PDF)

Black & white is 5 km across; enhanced color about 1 km
For scale, use JPEG/JP2 black & white map-projected images

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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona.