What's it like to look down a 5-mile-deep canyon? You can't do that on Earth, but you can get a sense of how it feels on the Red Planet, thanks to 3-D imagery from the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.
Today ESA released imagery of Melas Chasma, a section of Mars' huge Valles Marineris canyon system. The floor of Melas Chasma sinks more than five and a half miles (9 kilometers) below the surrounding plains, which makes the bottom of the canyon one of the lowest spots on the planet. The high-resolution imagery shows ample evidence that water once flowed down those crater walls and through the valley. You can see channels, landslides, jumbled debris and levees of sediment.
"The rocks display flow textures indicating that they were once deposited by liquid water, water ice or mud," ESA says in today's image advisory.
So what happened to all that water? Much of it was lost during billions of years of climate change and geological upheaval. Much is thought to be locked up in polar ice caps or subsurface ice. Some may still exist in liquid form, deep underground. The best way to look for traces of Martian life could well be to go to the bottom of valleys such as Melas Chasma ... and dig even deeper.
The picture above is a stereo image, created by combining two image channels from Mars Express' High Resolution Stereo Camera. Here's a bigger view. To get the 3-D effect, you have to look at the picture through red-blue glasses. You should be able to find 3-D specs at party stores, novelty stores or from a variety of vendors. You can make your own glasses. Heck, you can make your own 3-D pictures as well. Here's a portrait of yours truly that my colleague at msnbc.com, John Brecher, snapped as as experiment:
John Brecher / msnbc.com
Whip out your 3-D glasses to get a fresh perspective on Cosmic Log's proprietor.
I've also received a fresh crop of free 3-D glasses from Microsoft Research's WorldWide Telescope team. (Microsoft and NBC Universal are the partners behind the msnbc.com joint venture.) I'll send a pair to the first 25 people to leave a request on the wall of Cosmic Log's week-old Facebook page.
If you haven't clicked the "Like" button for Facebook yet, please do so. It's the next-best thing to the log itself. Oh, and feel free to follow @b0yle on Twitter as well.
More 3-D goodness: