Mountains on earth are impressive, sure. But space mountains? Now they’re a whole different ballgame. Recently, NASA scientists identified two mountains on the surface of Pluto that towered nearly 6.5 kilometres into the atmosphere and likely spewed ice instead of lava. But that’s far from the most unusual peak to pop up in our solar system. Here are a few of the most otherworldly landmarks that have been discovered in space.
Picard and Wright Mons, Pluto
The two peaks were discovered by scientists analyzing images of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft, which flew by the icy dwarf planet in July 2015. At the crest of each of these mountains is a central crater, characteristic of shield volcanoes on Earth, leading NASA scientists to believe they may be cryovolcanoes. While cryovolcanoes have been hypothesized elsewhere in the solar system, the landforms on Pluto are unique in their similarity to Earth’s volcanoes.
Olympus Mons, Mars
Towering 25 kilometres, roughly three times the height of Mount Everest, above the surface of Mars and stretching as wide as the state of Arizona, Olympus Mons is the largest mountain in the solar system. It was also the tallest until scientists discovered the Rheasilvia central peak on the Vesta asteroid in 2011, which is just a touch higher. Olympus Mons is also thought to be an active volcano that could erupt at any minute.
Maxwell Montes, Venus
While this mountain is the highest on Jupiter, towering about 11 kilometres above the surface and three kilometers higher than Mount Everest, its height isn’t its most interesting feature. Scientists believe that metallic snow comprised of lead and bismuth sulfide blankets its highest peaks. It is hypothesized that heavy metals are launched into the atmosphere through volcanic eruptions and then condensed into snow at high altitudes, such as on Maxwell Montes.
Equatorial ridge, Iapetus (Saturn moon)
Saturn’s two-toned moon — one half is black and the other is shining white — has many interesting features, including a mountain chain about 10 kilometres high running along its equator. Known informally as the Voyageur Mountains, some scientists believe the equatorial ridge could be a remnant of the moon’s former oblate shape, while others believe it is the result of a collapsed ring that used to orbit it.
Caloris Montes, Mercury
Approximately 3.8 to 3.9 billion years ago, a rocky body estimated to have been at least 100 kilometres in diameter is thought to have smashed into Mercury and formed one of the largest impact craters in our solar system, Caloris Basin. The force of the impact created a one- to two-kilometre-high mountain range, Caloris Montes, which encircles the 1550-kiometre-wide crater. The mountain range extends for 1,000 kilometres from the walls of the crater in concentric rings.