Landslides in the Solar System

On Earth, landslides are hazardous phenomena often associated with economic damage and loss of human lives. The most common natural triggers of terrestrial landslides are intense or prolonged rainfall, earthquakes, rapid snow melting, and volcanic activity. But what are the main natural triggers of landslides on other solid bodies of the Solar System?

Since the early 70's of the last century, landslides were observed on the surface of the Moon, Mars, Mercury and Venus, to mention only the bodies closest to the Earth. More recently, observations of the NASA's Dawn probe ( revealed that landslides are present on Vesta and Ceres, two asteroids.

The natural triggers of landslides on Earth may differ from the triggers of landslides on other solid bodies of the Solar System, because of different physical (e.g., gravity, atmospheric pressure) and environmental (e.g., presence or absence of fluids, erosion) conditions on the hosting environments.

We investigate the relationships between the presence of landslides and the physical and environmental conditions of solid bodies of the Solar System. Using the same criteria adopted to detect and characterize terrestrial landslides, we have identified, mapped and classified landslides on Mars, the Moon and Mercury, and we have compared the area, volume, length, and height of the extraterrestrial landslides with similar measures for terrestrial landslides.

Our aim is to understand how the physical properties of the materials on the planetary surface (e.g., the internal friction angle) affect the landslide trigger mechanisms.

On Mars, we mapped 189 landslides (Figure 1) in an area of 100,000 km2 in the Valles Marineris, a system of canyons 4000 km long, up to 200 km large, and up to 7 km deep, that stretches along the equator of Mars.

We have also recognized and mapped landslides on the Moon and Mercury, focusing on landslides inside the impact craters. Overall, we mapped 60 landslides on the walls of 35 craters of the Moon, and 58 landslides on the walls of 38 craters of Mercury.