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ESA image reveals Martian labyrinth of plateaus, valleys

The system of ridges and valleys were originally created by ancient tectonic and volcanic activity.
By Brooks Hays   |   Jan. 29, 2016 at 11:25 AM
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DARMSTADT, Germany, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- The Mars Express, an European Space Agency probe currently orbiting the Red Planet, recently returned an impressive image of a region on Mars called the Noctis Labyrinthus.

The region's name -- which translates to "labyrinth of the night" -- refers to the maze of valleys, fractures and plateaus formed by wind and sand. It is part of a larger geologic feature known as the Valles Marineris, one of the largest canyon networks in the solar system.

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The system of ridges and valleys were originally created by ancient tectonic and volcanic activity within the Martian region known as Tharsis. Crustal stretching and tension along fault lines created what are called grabens, a German word for ditches or trenches.

Grabens are created by a downshift of a strip of land juxtaposed by the upthrow of neighboring crust. The result is a valley guarded on each side by abrupt scarps.

Over time, the network of graben and fractures has been weathered by wind and gravity -- augmented by shifting sand dunes and frequent landslides.

Valles Marineris snakes across a distance of nearly 2,500 miles, while Noctis Labyrinthus stretches 750 miles. The image -- captured in July of 2015 and shared by ESA this week -- encompasses just a 75-mile-wide portion of the canyon system.

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