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Stewart Green

Mount Everest from Space? Not! NASA Admits Wrong ID

By February 2, 2013

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Back in early December a photograph of Mount Everest taken from the International Space Station (ISS) by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko made the rounds on all kinds of websites like the Huffington Post and The Atlantic, as well as on Twitterverse. It was a spectacular image of Everest made from about 250 miles above the Earth's surface.

Usually from space the world's highest mountain, which rises 29,035 feet or almost five miles above the Earth's crust from sea level, doesn't look very imposing, instead blending into the surrounding mountains. But this image of Mount Everest was simply spectacular.

The problem, however, with the photograph is that the colossal mountain rising in the middle of the image is not Mount Everest. The day after the photograph was broadcast far and wide on December 12, NASA sheepishly admitted that they wrongly identified the mountain.

After studying the photo, several Nepalese journalists quickly concluded that the mountain was not Mount Everest. Kunda Dixit tweeted, "Sorry guys, but the tall peak with the shadow in the middle is not Mt Everest." NASA then studied the image and removed it from their website. A NASA spokesperson said, "It is not Everest. It is Saser Muztagh, in the Karakoram Range of the Kashmir region of India. The view is in mid-afternoon light looking northeastward."

Calling the prominent mountain in the photograph Saser Muztagh might also be wrong. Saser Muztagh is a subrange at the eastern end of the Karakoram Range in northwest India. It's a rarely visited area with little climbing history, partly because the area is under dispute by both India and Pakistan.

The tall mountain in the center of the photograph is probably 25,171-foot (7,672 meter) Saser Kangri I, the high point of the range and the 35th highest mountain in the world. The mountain was first climbed by an Indian expedition in 1973. The name Saser Kangri means "golden earth ice peak" in the native Ladakhi language. The peak is at the head of the North Shukpa Kunchang Glacier, which drains east from the massif. Nearby are more high peaks--Saser Kangri II, Saser Kangri III, and Saser Kangri IV.

When I compare the photograph with a Google satellite image, it appears that the obvious peak is Saser Kangri I. What are your conclusions?

Photograph above: What is the mountain in the ISS photo? It appears to be Saser Kangri I in the Saser Muztagh range in northwest India. Photograph courtesy NASA.


February 9, 2013 at 9:35 pm
(1) climbing says:

While writing this blog post, I figured that I would go directly to an expert on Indian mountains. My friend Satyabrata Dam, who has climbed Everest a few times, the 7 summits, El Capitan, and mountains all over the world, sent me this reply today:

“You are spot on about the above pic being that of Saser Mustagh. I have climbed a lot in this area, having summitted Saser Kangri I and Saser Kangri IV from the so called ‘impossible’ west ridge. Have crossed Saser La on several occasions. There are still some of the highest virgin peaks in the world left in this area. A splendid climbing ground for any extreme high altitude alpinist but highly restricted access due to military presence and the on going dispute between India and Pakistan.”

Thanks Satya!!

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