In the past 50 years, scientists have obtained an incredible amount of information about the geology of our solar system. Strange and impressive planetary geological discoveries like Mars’s Olympus Mons, made by Mariner 9 in 1971, the volcanoes of Venus, observed by the Magellan spacecraft in 1991, and the Beagle Rupes, spotted by the Messenger spacecraft when it flew past Mercury for the first time in 2008, have opened our eyes as to what is actually out there in our solar system.
The four terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, the Earth, and Mars, as well as the icy but solid dwarf planets of Ceres and Pluto are host to incredible geological features that put Earth’s Grand Canyon and The Great Blue Hole to shame. There are mountains on other planets three times the height of Mount Everest, craters you can see with a telescope from Earth, and many other extraterrestrial structures that will leave you in awe. These geological features are some of the very coolest on our solar system’s planets.
Olympus Mons On Mars
The Olympus Mons on Mars is the largest volcano in our solar system—it stands 16 miles high and stretches 374 miles across, making it three times taller than Mount Everest and roughly the size of Arizona. Olympus Mons has taken billions of years to form.
Scientists think that Mars’s lower surface gravity, limited tectonic plate movement, and high eruption rates have all contributed to the formation of this beast.
The Cracks Of Jupiter’s Moon Europa
The surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa is covered with a complex and beautiful set of cracks. Scientists suspect the icy crust of the moon hides a deep liquid ocean covering a rocky surface below. They believe these cracks are the result of tidal forces on the ocean beneath the surface.
Spot 5, A Bright Spot On The Dwarf Planet Ceres
Two distinct bright spots are nestled within the Occator crater on Ceres, which is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. These spots shine 40% brighter than the rest of the planet’s surface. After laypeople pointed to these areas as proof of an alien civilization, scientists discovered a much less exciting explanation—they are in fact huge salt deposits.
Maat Mons On Venus
This three-dimensional perspective of Maat Mons on Venus was captured from radar data taken from the Magellan spacecraft in 1991. This shield volcano stands five miles tall, and fresh, dark lava extends for hundreds of miles in the foreground, perhaps flowing from a relatively recent eruption, which occurred 10 to 20 million years ago.
Giant Ice Blades On Pluto
Pluto’s surface hosts blades of ice that soar to the height of skyscrapers. These dramatic features consist of methane that transforms from gas on the surface of the planet to frozen ice as it rises into the atmosphere.
Giant Canyons On Mars
Covering nearly a fifth the circumference of Mars, Valles Marineris reigns as one of the largest canyons in the solar system. Scientists believe that there was once water just at or beneath Mars’s surface, and that these canyons were created by rushing water and floods.
Addams Crater On Venus
This impact crater—which was likely created by a meteoroid, asteroid, or comet—is remarkable for the extensive 373 mile outflow that expands from the crater rim. Because of the high temperature and pressure on Venus, impacts produce more melt than they do on other planets.
Loki Patera On Jupiter’s Moon Io
Loki Patera, an active lava lake, is a large horseshoe-shaped black feature. Telescopes all the way from Earth can detect heat from Loki. Scientists believe that Loki is probably hot sulfur lava, which may remain molten by mixing with the silicate magma that emerges from Io.
Linear Gullies Inside Russell Crater On Mars
These grooves flow down the side of a large sand dune inside the Russell Crater on Mars. They are linear gullies—narrow, steep-sided channels that scientists believe could have been formed by blocks of dry ice, which slide down the slope in spring. Carbon dioxide frost covers high-latitude areas during the Martian winter, so it’s entirely plausible that chunks could break off and make these marks when they begin to melt.
At 1.2 miles, these linear gullies are the longest ones known to exist.
Pancake Domes On Venus
This cluster of four overlapping domes is located on the eastern edge of Alpha Regio, a region of Venus. The domes average about 16 miles in diameter and rise to 2,460 feet at the highest point. Scientists believe they were formed by eruptions of very thick, viscous lava rising up from a nearby vent.
Since the ground is relatively level in this area, the lava naturally spread outward to form the structures’ signature pancake pattern.
Mysterious Mazes On Saturn’s Largest Moon
Enormous labyrinth terrains crisscross the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. These distinct marks are caused by methane and ethane that rain down and slowly carve away at the landscape by a largely unknown method. The maze stretches for miles. Interestingly, Earth and Mars share very similar landscapes.
Sputnik Planitia On Pluto
The northwestern region of Pluto vaguely looks like a heart and is actually a nitrogen-ice covered basin called Sputnik Planitia. The basin stretches for 620 miles. It was likely created by an impact and is now covered with a massive glacier.
Sinuous Gullies On Mars
These gullies span the face of a sand dune within the 1,400-mile-wide Hellas Planitia impact basin on Mars. Unlike other linear gullies, which are typically straight, these look like they’ve been drawn on with a squiggle pen. NASA scientists are still trying to determine why the gullies aren’t linear, but they believe that in this case, several different dry-ice blocks repeatedly slid down the same path, encountering different levels of resistance from the sand on each trip.
The Plains South Of Valles Marineris On Mars
According to NASA, the layers and small channels of these plains suggest water flow, craters, and hardened sand dunes. The enhanced color sample reveals the diversity of Mars’s landscape that can be hard to differentiate in black and white photos.
Pattern Of Pits On Pluto
In 2015, the telescopic camera on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took the highest resolution images ever captured of the intricate pattern of pits across a region of Pluto. Mission scientists believe these indentations form through a process of ice fracturing and evaporation.
Nar Suclus On Ceres
These long, parallel fractures are very common on icy moons, but it’s the only formation of its type on the dwarf planet Ceres. It’s inside the Yalode Crater, and scientists believe that whatever impact created the crater likely melted a large amount of ice, rock, and salt. When the mixture refroze, it expanded and opened the fracture.
So-Called “Weird Terrain” On Mercury
This large, hilly area of Mercury sits on the exact opposite side of the planet from the Caloris basin. Scientists believe that the Weird Terrain may have been formed by shock waves, which emanated from the impact that created the basin.
Ripples And Dunes In The Proctor Crater On Mars
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Rover (MRO) observed these ripples and dunes that scientists believe are created by wind. The dark sand dunes are made of basaltic particles, and the lighter ripples are likely dust deposits.
Beagle Rupes On Mercury
The Beagle Rupes is a break in Mercury’s surface, where younger rocks were pushed above older rocks. This feature spans 373 miles and is one of the longest and tallest scarps, or ridges, on Mercury.