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3 Mountains Taller Than Everest

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

by James Hunt

At almost 30,000 feet, Mount Everest may seem like it's as tall and as high a mountain as has ever existed. But the title of Tallest Mountain all depends on how—and where—you make your measurements. Here are three competitors. 

1. MAUNA KEA

The dormant volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii is one of several known peaks that are arguably taller than Everest—as long as you're willing to award the title of "tallest" based on a technicality.

Certainly, the highest point of Mauna Kea is definitely not higher than Everest's. At 4205 meters (13,796 feet) above sea level, it's less than half as high as Everest. So why is it such a good challenger for the accolade of tallest mountain? It all hinges on those three simple words: "above sea level."

If you discard the water that surrounds Mauna Kea and measure the mountain from its underwater base—a measurement strangely called the "dry prominence," or the solid bottom of all features—Mauna Kea is taller than Everest by almost 500 meters (1640 feet). Starting at the point where Mauna Kea begins to rise out of the surrounding crust, the mountain has a total height of around 9330 meters (30,610 feet). Since no part of Everest is submerged, its dry prominence is the same as its height above sea level. But if you could place the two mountains side-by-side, on a flat plane, Mauna Kea would indisputably be the taller of the two.

There are several factors that enable Mauna Kea to be taller than a mountain formed above sea level, but the main reasons are to do with the crust beneath it. Oceanic crust is denser than continental crust and therefore less prone to sag. It's also a lot thinner than continental crust—about 4 to 6 miles thick, rather than 15 to 43 miles like continental crust.

By comparison, Everest has the heavy weight of a mountain sitting on top of the already heavy weight of continental crust. Since water is much less dense than rock, the oceanic crust below Mauna Kea is carrying less weight beneath sea level than the continental crust beneath Mount Everest. It can therefore support a higher prominence than would be possible above sea level.

2. OLYMPUS MONS

If Mauna Kea is only taller than Everest because of a technicality, then maybe Olympus Mons has a better claim to the title. Also a dormant volcano, Olympus Mons is around three times the height of Mount Everest, and there's absolutely no sea water around the base to muddy the definition of where we start measuring its height. But if you're a budding mountaineer looking for a challenge, you might have to wait some time until you try and climb it, because there's one small problem: Olympus Mons is located on Mars.

Olympus Mons isn't just the biggest dormant volcano on Mars, it's the biggest yet found in the entire solar system. It rises about 13 miles above the local terrain and Mars's geodetic datum (the local equivalent of sea level), and over 16 miles above the Martian plains. At its base, it covers an area the size of Arizona. But how can it be that big?

Maybe it's the result of reduced gravity, or less weathering, or even just luck—but the most likely reason is that the Martian crust isn't divided into plates like it is on Earth, so the geology is a lot more stable.

On Earth, when a volcano forms, the movement of the tectonic plates causes it to shift and move until eventually it's no longer being fed pressurized magma, and it stops erupting. On Mars, Olympus Mons remained in a single place for millions of years, growing with each eruption until the Martian core finally cooled enough for volcanic activity to cease.

To put that into perspective, Mount Everest has been actively growing for around 60 million years, as the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates have collided. The eruptions that formed Olympus Mons can be dated back as far as 350 million years, and the youngest parts indicate that it erupted as recently as 2 million years ago. In geological terms, that's relatively recent.

3. CHIMBORAZO

Back on Earth, there's one final competitor for Everest's title: Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador. Everest is definitely the highest peak on Earth, and Mauna Kea is arguably the tallest—but Chimborazo is the most prominent, meaning it sticks out the furthest from the surface of the Earth.

How does that work? It's all due to the shape of the Earth. Chimborazo itself is only 6268 meters (20,564 feet) high, but it's quite close to the equator. The planet is shaped like a slightly squashed ball, wider around the equator than from top to bottom, and that makes the peak of Chimborazo the furthest you can physically get from the Earth's core while still standing on the Earth's crust. Not even by a negligible amount—by a solid 20,000 feet, which is two-thirds the size of Everest. Everest is still the furthest you can get above sea level, but that's because sea level is affected by the bulging equator as well.

In the end, Mount Everest is always going to be the highest point on Earth, and that alone means it'll always have a place in the dreams of those seeking to conquer nature. But next time anyone tells you that Everest is as tall as they come, maybe you'll be able to point out that when it comes to measuring the height of something, while you can't move mountains, you can quite easily move the goalposts.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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