THEMIS: Sapping gullies in Louros Valles

Sapping gullies in Louros Valles (THEMIS_IOTD_20180301)THEMIS Image of the Day, March 1, 2018. Ius Chasma is unique from the other chasmata of Valles Marineris in possessing mega gullies on both sides of the chasma. The largest mega gullies are located in Sinai Planum, dissecting those plains and emptying into the canyon. These mega gullies are called Louros Valles.

Mega gullies are thought to be sapping channels caused by groundwater flow and erosion. The Earth analog is springs – water that flows underground and then breaches the surface creating channels. The morphology of the Mars gullies mirrors terrestrial springs. The channel is fairly uniform in width and the “head” of the channel is rounded like an amphiteater. The channel lengthens by erosion at the “head” backwards as the surface where the spring emerges is undercut.

For Mars it is theorized that subsurface water would stay liquid due to underground heating. The “X” in the lower half of the image and the channel at the very bottom are parts of the two largest mega gullies.

Ius Chasma is at the western end of Valles Marineris, south of Tithonium Chasma. Valles Marineris is over 4000 kilometers long, wider than the United States. Ius Chasma is almost 850 kilometers long (528 miles), 120 kilometers wide and over 8 kilometers deep. In comparison, the Grand Canyon in Arizona is about 175 kilometers long, 30 kilometers wide, and only 2 kilometers deep.

The canyons of Valles Marineris were formed by extensive fracturing and pulling apart of the crust during the uplift of the vast Tharsis plateau. Landslides have enlarged the canyon walls and created deposits on the canyon floor. Weathering of the surface and influx of dust and sand have modified the canyon floor, both creating and modifying layered materials. There are many features that indicate flowing and standing water played a part in the chasma formation.

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has spent over 15 years in orbit around Mars, circling the planet more than 71,000 times. It holds the record for longest working spacecraft at Mars. THEMIS, the IR/VIS camera system, has collected data for the entire mission and provides images covering all seasons and lighting conditions.

Over the years many features of interest have received repeated imaging, building up a suite of images covering the entire feature. From the deepest chasma to the tallest volcano, individual dunes inside craters and dune fields that encircle the north pole, channels carved by water and lava, and a variety of other feature, THEMIS has imaged them all.

For the next several months the Image of the Day will focus on the Tharsis volcanoes, the various chasmata of Valles Marineris, and the major dune fields. We hope you enjoy these images!

More THEMIS Images of the Day by geological topic.

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