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An immense crack in the Red Planet's crust:

The Great Rift Valley of Mars

Mars Valles Marineris photo by Viking
Valles Marineris seen on Mars by Viking
click to enlarge 215k NASA image
Near the four giant shield volcanoes is an immense crack in the crust of Mars. This 3,100-mile-long (5,000-kilometer-long) rift valley is a series of canyons, each several hundred miles long and up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) wide.

Such a mammoth gorge in the United States would stretch from San Diego to Boston.

Rift valleys are well known on Earth, of course. For instance, in Africa they represent the breakup of that continent into two separate plates. There also is a remarkable rift valley on the planet Venus.

Rifting is the first step in plate tectonics, the beginning of plate formation. The process seems to have started on Mars, but the planet cooled too much to have the active plate movements we know as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

There may be occasional small "marsquakes" and volcanic eruptions, but Mars is a dying world geologically.

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Sand dunes: Dust Storms: Air: Carbon Dioxide: Outflow Channels: Valley Networks: Rift Valley: Ice: Ice caps: Frost: Water: Artesian Water: Mars Weather: Mars Photo Galleries: Planet features: Canals: Rocks: Mountains: Dating and aging: Seasons:
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