Credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University
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Many features on rocky bodies in the solar system appear to be the result of erosion. But often the eroded material can’t be found. The electrical behavior of plasma suggests a new place to look: in space.
The dark yellow streaks radiating into the blue valley floor in the image above are thought to be slides of dust or perhaps sand. The red and yellow slope down which they have slid is a rocky hump at the juncture of 4-kilometer-deep channels in the Noctis Labyrinthus region on Mars. (In this infrared image, dust-covered areas have cooled and are colored blue; bare rock has retained more daytime heat and is colored red.) The caption to the image remarks about the slides, “And where they came to rest, they left no discernable debris.”
That remark and others like it are repeated frequently in descriptions of planetary features. Channels and pits in the “volcanic” region to the west of Noctis Labyrinthus are described as collapsed lava tubes, but again there is no discernable debris on their floors from the speculative fallen roof. To the east of Noctis Labyrinthus is the immense canyon system of Valles Marineris. If water eroded the thousands of cubic kilometers that are missing, it left no discernable debris downstream.
Farther west, a third of the way around the planet, the Arabia Terra region has been heavily eroded. But according to one press release, “the causes of the erosion—and where all the material went when it was removed—are not known.”
At a still larger scale, almost the entire northern hemisphere of Mars—except for the north polar ice cap—is several kilometers lower than the southern hemisphere. There was nowhere for that debris to go.
Mars is not the only planet with features that have no discernable debris. The channels on Venus, thought to be formed by flowing lava, not only have no outflows but also rise and fall over several kilometers in their length. Their floors have no discernable debris from fallen roofs or from uplifted terrain.
The Moon was the first body discovered to have no discernable debris in the rilles that were attributed to the collapse of lava tubes. Later speculations that the rilles were cracks also left the absence of debris unexplained.
The saga of “no discernable debris” finally comes home to Earth. Before the dearth of debris was noted in Valles Marineris, geologists had evaded the question with respect to the Grand Canyon. Prior to the Canyon’s formation, the region drained to the northeast. After the region was uplifted, a lake and sediments formed across what is now the Canyon’s mouth. The Colorado River cuts through those sediments. The time for the river to erode the Canyon is short, and there is no identifiable source for the river. One geologist declared that the Colorado could have cut the Grand Canyon only if the river came from the sky.
The large volume of debris that was removed from the Canyon is nowhere to be found downstream. Geologists assume it must have washed far out into the Pacific Ocean but only because they can’t imagine anywhere else it could have gone. But despair and failure of imagination don’t justify a theory.
The Grand Canyon is a miniature of Valles Marineris in more ways. To the east of the Canyon lie the Canyonlands—an eroded region of channels and mesas not unlike Noctis Labyrinthus to the west of Valles Marineris. The erosion in the Canyonlands only adds to the volume of missing debris from the Grand Canyon—and to the mystery of where it went. And to the north, “the Great Denudation” eroded thousands of feet of rock from the eastern half of Utah. Missing material from half of Utah, the Canyonlands, and the Grand Canyon adds up to a lot of erosion—but there is no discernable debris.
Missing debris is so common that we often don’t notice that it’s missing. Especially at larger scales, where there is no place for the missing material to have gone, we simply assume there was never anything there. We ignore contrary evidence or fail to look for it.The Electric Universe suggests a new mechanism for erosion—electrical discharge machining (EDM)—and a place for the debris—in space. It justifies another look at features that mysteriously have no discernable debris. It suggests that features previously considered to be non-erosional be re-examined from a different perspective. In view of the wide scale over which EDM may have operated on other planets, two intriguing features on Earth that warrant re-examination are the African rift valley and the Atlantic Ocean bed.
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