Imagine standing at the foot of Mount Everest, gazing up at its soaring peak 8,848 meters above sea level. Now picture a mountain nearly three times as tall! This isn’t a fantasy; it’s a real place called Olympus Mons—except it’s not on Earth but on our planetary neighbor, Mars.
Olympus Mons is a towering giant, reputed as the highest mountain discovered in our solar system to date. It stretches skyward for an astounding 22 kilometers. It’s not like we can just tape a ruler to its side, though; scientists measure such behemoths using specialized equipment like the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter.
You might wonder just how large Olympus Mons really is. Well, imagine a caldera—the summit crater formed by volcanic activity—that’s 85 kilometers long and 60 kilometers wide. As if that wasn’t mind-blowing enough, this Martian mountain is girded by cliffs that soar nearly 6,000 meters—think Everest minus a couple hundred meters.
But here’s where it gets even more unimaginable: if you stood on the surface of Mars, you wouldn’t be able to see Olympus Mons in its entirety. It’s so vast, with a footprint that spans about 600 kilometers, it would stretch beyond the horizon, blending into the curvature of the planet. Even space telescopes struggle to grasp its full glory, capturing merely a vast, indistinct blotch with a dimple marking the central crater.
Nestled on the Tharsis Plateau in Mars’ western hemisphere, this mammoth mountain can be spotted on Google Mars if you’re curious to see for yourself. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express probe has shed light on Olympus Mons’ past, suggesting that its lava flows could be around two million years old. With such recent geological activity, it’s not entirely out of the question that this colossal volcano might still harbor some fiery life within.
Mount Olympus compared to an American state like Arizona is an illustrative picture and really brings home the scale of this natural Martian wonder. For context, Arizona spans about 295 kilometers from north to south and 400 kilometers from east to west at its widest points—imagine an entire U.S. state dwarfed by the sheer expanse of a single Martian mountain!
So, although it may be hard to wrap our heads around the enormity of Olympus Mons, it serves as a humbling reminder of the incredible wonders our universe holds—many right next door in our own cosmic backyard.