Upper credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State
Lower Credit: ESA
May 16, 2005
The greatest canyon in the solar system, Valles Marineris on Mars, underscores the contrast between two interpretations of the planet’s history. Now, high-resolution images of the chasm cast new doubts on old explanations.
In recent years, no planet (apart from Earth) has received more scrutiny than our neighbor Mars. The “planet of a thousand mysteries” is more than an unusual member of the solar system. It has emerged as a laboratory in space for the exploration of solar system history. And the story it has to tell is so different from the things we learned in school that a retreat from all prior doctrines is now essential. Current geologic concepts, based on terrestrial observations of volcanism, erosion, and shifting surfaces, fail to account for the features of Mars, and the history and geology of Mars that have been built on those concepts is incomprehensible. But letting go of a cherished belief system often requires a shock.
Fittingly, it is the electrical viewpoint that provides the required “shock to the system”. The contributors to this page believe that on the objective test of “predictive ability”—the only legitimate test in the theoretical sciences—the electrical hypothesis will account for the dominant features on Mars, where popular theory fails.
Often the simplest test of a new approach is to consider its most extraordinary claim. Of all the enigmatic features on Mars, none is more striking than Valles Marineris, the great trench cutting across more than 3000 miles of the Martian surface. In our Picture of the Day for April 08, 2005 “The Thunderbolt that Changed the Face of Mars”, we suggested that Valles Marineris was created within minutes or hours "by a giant electric arc sweeping across the surface of Mars. Rock and soil were lifted into space and some fell back to create the great, strewn fields of boulders first seen by the Viking and Pathfinder landers”.
But what will it take for planetary scientists to consider a new way of seeing Valles Marineris? It will require a willingness to reconsider all assumptions, without prejudice. A prejudice is an unfounded assumption that leaves one in a state of partial blindness. On the matter of Martian history in general, and Valles Marineris in particular, the most powerful prejudice is an untested supposition, the bane of space age science: the idea that planets have moved on their present courses for billions of years. No one should have the intellectual privilege of asserting such an idea as dogma. The idea originated as a guess and then, in the absence of any definitive evidence, crystallized into a doctrine held in place only by the inertia of belief.
The second requirement is to allow for the possibility that the Sun and planets are charged bodies so that, within an unstable solar system, electrical arcing between these bodies may have been the dominant force that carved surface features. Yes, this is an extraordinary possibility, but it is also supported by an immense library of evidence, as we intend to show in these Pictures of the Day.
Forces external to the planet Mars have shaped its past far more dramatically than any process in the toolkit of standard geology. Look at the Valles Mariners as pictured above. The continental-scale chasm lies on a bulge rising 11 km (6.8 mi) above the surrounding plains. Did evolution of the planet in isolation produce this vast bulge? And what of the trench itself? Traditional geology cannot explain in a plausible way Valles Marineris! Here, for example, is the “explanation” offered in a recent release by the European Space Agency:
“The whole canyon system itself is the result of a variety of geological processes. Probably tectonic rifting, water and wind action, volcanism and glacial activity all have played major roles in its formation and evolution.” The anomalies and exceptions to this litany of standard geologic processes reduce the applicability of standard theory to the point of leaving nothing that it explains. In the electric view, the electric force raised the Tharsis bulge, along with the surface “blisters” of Olympus Mons and its companions to the west, and a planetary-sized electric arc cut Valles Marineris into the bulge.
Today all but a tiny minority of geologists have dropped the idea of creation by flooding. The most common agent currently cited is surface spreading. But higher resolution pictures lend no credence to this concept as well, and many high-resolution views appear to categorically refute it. To illustrate the point we offer a close-up view (lower image) of a small section of the western end of the canyons of Valles Marineris—Tithonium Chasma and Ius Chasma (marked by the white box in the context picture above). The second (lower) picture, with a resolution of 52 meters per pixel, shows the neatly “machined” look predicted by the electrical arcing hypothesis.
This is certainly not the appearance predicted by the popular idea of a massive “rift” opening up on the Martian surface.
There is no evidence of lateral surface movement, and the stubby, cleanly cut alcoves stand as clear witnesses to the removal of material, as if by a router bit. So too, the sharply defined chain of overlapping craters in the upper right speaks for the scooping out and removal of material, not for rifting. Of this pattern, predictable under the electric hypothesis, the Valles Marineris provides many instances. We have placed two examples here and here.
For a time, the most plausible instance of surface spreading was Labyrinthus Noctis, the chaotic region to the west (left) in the upper picture. In particular, that explanation seemed plausible in the earlier Mariner probe image seen here. Some scientists had compared this region to the cracked surface of a loaf of bread as the surface is raised and spread during baking.
But more recent pictures show something quite different. Here we see the same indications of cleanly cut trenches or channels now revealed throughout Valles Marineris, though the pattern is more chaotic and the depressions more shallow. From an electric viewpoint, the stupendous arc that cut Valles Marineris was diffused into secondary filaments before being quenched. As seen in numerous counterparts on Mars, the depressions of Labyrinthus Noctis appear as complexes of crater chains and flat valleys, cut by the same force that created the overlapping craters elsewhere on Mars. The surface areas untouched by the arc thus remain as buttes and surrounding plains above scalloped cliffs. The smooth surfaces above the valleys show no evidence of rifting or of the supposed stressed that are claimed to have "torn" the surface, just a complex of even more shallow, flat-bottomed and often parallel grooves, a recognized signature of electric arcing.
For the mythology related to the VM see:
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