All of those that have bravely climbed Mount Everest might have done so in vain – they weren’t climbing the world’s highest mountain after all, according to scientists.
The Himalayan mountain is actually beaten by Chimborazo, in Ecuador. But Everest still wins on the traditional metrics: it’s nearly 9,000m above sea level, thousands more than any of its closest rivals.
But it’s not actually the furthest up, or the closest to space. Ecuador’s mountain tops it on that measure, and it’s all because of the Earth’s funny shape.
Everest only wins when measured from sea level. But if instead you measure out from the centre of the Earth, Chimborazo wins easily – and Everest wouldn’t even get into the top 20 mountains.
The results come because the Earth isn’t a perfect sphere, but a squashed one that is flattened at the top and bottom and bulges out slightly in the middle.
That shape gives an advantage to any mountains that happen to lie along the equator. And Chimborazo is a beneficiary of that – it’s very close to the Earth’s bulging middle, while Everest is about a third of the way towards the top.
A recent climb up the mountain by hikers from the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in France found that it was actually 15ft shorter than previously thought, reports The New York Times.
Mount Everest doesn’t even really get to be the highest mountain on some other measures. Hawaii’s Mauna Kea is a lot bigger from top to bottom – but since that bottom and much of the rest of the mountain is under the sea, it isn’t able to match Everest’s record-breaking height when measured in relation to sea level.
Everest’s fame and infamy really comes from the fact that it is the highest climb – and so the hardest one, too.
Chimborazo is relatively easy to ascend – done in about two weeks as opposed to the two months of work that must be done to reach the summit of Everest.
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