We have known for quite a while that the summit of Mt. Everest is the highest point of land above sea level in the world at 29,029 feet above sea level. However, it’s not actually the world’s tallest mountain nor is it the solar system’s biggest mountain. The reason is because the definition of a mountain is more complicated than you might think. Using Wikipedia’s definition a mountain is “a large landform that stretches above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a peak.” This is a moment in science that is very similar to when Pluto got demoted to being a dwarf planet.
One thing that many of us tend to forget is that the ocean floor is by no means flat and there are massive, undersea mountain ranges in all of our oceans formed mainly by underwater volcanoes. Some of these volcanic mountains get so tall that they break the surface of the ocean and become islands. Some of those islands include all of the islands that make up Japan and Hawaii. Using that definition though, scientists just recently discovered the largest mountain in the world beneath the Pacific Ocean about 1000 miles east of Japan. This mountain, Tamu Massif, is a rounded dome about the size of the state of New Mexico that rises up 21,120 feet above it’s base reaching its summit about 6500 feet below the ocean’s surface.
Tamu Massif has been known to humanity for about a century but it was only recently that it was discovered that this mountain is one giant volcano. It was previously thought that it was an underwater plateau or mountain range built up by many different volcanoes close to one another but further analysis revealed that most of the mountain was formed by one massive eruption about 145 million years ago when dinosaurs were walking the Earth. Geologists estimate that the volcano went extinct very soon afterward and has been quiet ever since. Now that it has been confirmed that the mountain was made by one volcano, this mountain actually takes the title of the biggest mountain in our solar system away from Olympus Mons on Mars. This is one of those moments that makes us realize that there is still so much about our own planet that we still don’t yet know especially when it comes to things in the depths of the ocean.
A topographic map of the ocean floor is not quite as impressive as Mt. Everest
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