This image of the Martian surface shows large valleys called Northwestern sloped valleys (NSV's) that were created by cataclysmic flooding in the distant past.
Courtesy of NASA

The Largest Valley System in the Solar System
News story originally written on August 8, 2001

Scientists studying the features of Mars have discovered the largest known valleys in the solar system. These valleys and gorges lie beneath the surface of the planet, under ash, lava, and dust, and were spotted by a satellite in Mars' orbit that can look beneath the surface using lasers. The name of this satellite is the Mars Global Surveyor.

These giant channels were apparently formed by large amounts of water flowing through them, as similar structures are formed on Earth, except that to form valleys the size of these the water flow through them would have been 50,000 times that of the Amazon River!

The scientists who completed the study say that Mars probably experienced periods of dramatic heating caused by volcanic activity, and this sharp increase in temperature would have caused floods of an incredible scale. They say that the amount of water flowing through the channels they have discovered would have been enough to fill an ocean three times the size of the Mediterranean Sea in less than two months!

The evidence from this study supports the long-held idea that Mars has vast amounts of frozen water, and that from time to time this water is released by volcanic activity. It also suggests that sometime in the future, Mars may again have oceans, lakes and rivers on its surface.

Last modified August 10, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Exploratour - Water on Mars

This page is the start of the tour which explores water on Mars. Use the navigation button at the top of the page to move through the tour. To go to the next page, just press the forward link on the navigation...more

Newly Discovered Martian Lakes and Canyon!

Scientists have found lakes and a river in the highlands of Mars. They don't contain any water, but they may show that the cold, dry planet once had a very different environment where liquid water flowed...more

1999--A Year in Review...

It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more

STS-95 Launch: "Let the wings of Discovery lift us on to the future."

The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on October 29th at 2:19 p.m. EST. The weather was great as Discovery took 8 1/2 minutes to reach orbit. This was the United States' 123rd...more

Moon Found Orbiting Asteroid

A moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is only the second time in history that a satellite has been seen circling an asteroid. A special mirror allowed scientists to find the moon...more

U.S. is Fed Up with Russia

Will Russia ever put the service module for the International Space Station in space? NASA officials want an answer from the Russian government. The necessary service module is currently waiting to be...more

More on Recent Coronal Mass Ejection

A coronal mass ejection (CME) happened on the Sun early last month. The material that was thrown out from this explosion passed the ACE spacecraft. The SWICS instrument on ACE has produced a new and very...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA