The Tallest Mountain in Our Solar System

By Anupum Pant

Right here on earth there are really tall mountains. Mount Everest is the highest peak and then there’s Mauna Kea in Hawaii which is supposed to be the tallest. Yes, even taller than the Mt. Everest. To add to it, there’s one highest unclimbed mountain – Gangkhar Puensum – in Bhutan.

If we zoom out a little and put the whole solar system in our radar, things change. Mt Everest or even Mauna Kea are no where near the tallest mountains we have in our solar system. For instance, Olympus Mons, a shield volcano has, for a long time, been considered the highest peak in our solar system.

This is how it compares with mount Everest, for example. The peak of  Mount Everest measures 8,848 meters. It’s absolutely huge. And yet, Olympus Mons on Mars is about 2.5 times higher! It measures about 22 kilometres in height. This image clearly shows how it compares with our tallest and highest mountains…

Olympus_Mons_Side_View.svg

And yet again, even Olympus Mons, which has had the title of the tallest mountain in our solar system for several years, is believed to be no longer the tallest one.

A recently discovered peak in a proto-planet called Vesta is probably now the tallest mountain in our solar system. However, since this one – Mount Rheasilvia – is estimated to be only a few 100 meters taller than Olympus Mons, it has not very clearly dethroned Olympus Mons. Still, the data is pretty solid and can be trusted.

Rheasilvia was a peak known to researchers since 1997. But it was in 2011, when the Dawn spacecraft passed it, the data became really clear.

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Door to Hell

By Anupum Pant

For more than 40 years now, a 250 feet hole in the ground in Turkmenistan has remained glowing with a yellow-orange flame. They call it the door to hell.

It started in the year 1971 when soviet scientists set up a rig to extract natural gas at that place, and the rig collapsed. When that happened, the scientists feared the spread of huge amounts of methane gas, and set the place on fire. They estimated that the fire would go out in a couple of hours. But it lasted, and has lasted for more than 40 years. The fire in it is still burning strong.

The hole is in a very isolated place and it’s hard to find directions to reach it. It is still a tourist place and locals do know how to reach it.

The huge blasts of hot air, and the pungent gases that emanate from the pit make it hard to stand at the edge, but mesmerized by its view people still do it.

The Highest Unclimbed Mountain

By Anupum Pant

Gangkhar Puensum, meaning three mountain siblings, is the tallest mountain in Bhutan with an elevation of 7,570 meters. Since the 80s several attempts have been made to climb this mountain – a part of which lies in Bhutan and the other part in Tibet. None of the attempts have ever been successful.

However in the year 1999, a team of climbers from Japan, after a protracted attempt to get a permit, were able to reach the top of one of the three peaks – Liankang Kangri – from the Chinese side of the mountain. Later, protests from local people in Bhutan made them stop.

So technically, the highest peak has never been climbed by anyone till date. Gangkhar Puensum remains the highest unclimbed mountain. The reason mostly is because obtaining a permit to climb it is almost impossible. It is prohibited by the government of Bhutan.

The prohibition by the government has mostly to do with the lack of rescue services at that place, and due to the local belief which considers the peak sacred – a home to holy spirits.

Gangkhar Puensum is certainly one of the uncharted mysterious places in the world where no one has gone and probably never will.