It seems like a 8,848-meter mountain would be easy to spot, but it's oddly challenging to find Mount Everest from a few hundred kilometers higher in elevation. The famous mountain is visible in each of these photos from the International Space Station, but can you find it?

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December 2014. Image credit: NASA/Butch Wilmore

Mount Everest is inarguably the tallest mountain on the planet when measured strictly as an elevation above sea level, but the superlative gets less clear-cut depending on how you measure:

  • From base-to-peak, the gentle roundness of Mauna Kea ranks as the tallest mountain at 10,203 m, yet less than half peeks above the waves for a skimpy 4,207 m above sea level.
  • Nested in a range of mountains on a bulging plateau, Everest is merely the tallest amongst giants: it takes meandering over to Alaska's Mount McKinley or Africa's Kilimanjaro to find the mountain that looms most menacingly above the surrounding terrain (and deciding how to measure what are surroundings versus foothills will likely lead to blows between scrapping geological surveys).
  • Arguing which mountain will carry you farthest from the center of the Earth adds on another layer of complication: our not-so-spherical planet features an equatorial bulge that boosts either Peru's Huascarán or Ecuador's Chimborazo into the top slot for that particular measure of "tallest."

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December 2014. Image credit: NASA/Butch Wilmore

When sticking to the traditional pure elevation as measured above sea level, while Mount Everest is clearly the tallest of mountains, its exact height is subject to a bit more finickiness. The mountain stretches somewhere between 8,84o and 8,850 meters above sea level. The official height of 8,848 meters was surveyed by geometry and angles using theodolites and included snowpack, while a later survey using the same technique parked the height at 8,844.43 meters without snowpack. In yet another survey attempt, a GPS unit nabbed the rock height at 8,850 meters with an additional one-meter snowpack. To make it all even more confusing, Mount Everest is in an active tectonic zone, so that height keeps on changing.

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December 2014. Image credit: NASA/Butch Wilmor

Mount Everest is near-smothered in the exuberant tallness of surrounding peaks as the entire Himalayan mountain range climbs towards the sky. The region owes its voluptuous heights to the inexorable mechanics of plate tectonics: the Indian Plate has been crashing into the Eurasian Plate for 50 million years, piling continental plate into rocky bergs with roots extending even deeper into the crust than the mountain range and Tibetan plateau climb above the surrounding topography.

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November 2003. Image credit: NASA. Read more: Earth Observatory

As part of maintaining spatial awareness and orienting their observations, astronauts train to be able to quickly identify Mount Everest as it comes into view. This isn't always easy, particularly when racing around the planet fifteen times a day and seeing the mountain in all sorts of weather, snow coverage, and light angles, so it takes a lot of practice.

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October 2011. Image credit: NASA. Read more: Earth Observatory

If you need a hint to find the strangely-elusive Everest, here's more views of the stunning mountain as seen by astronauts on the International Space Station over the years:

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January 2004. Image credit: NASA

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October 1993. Read more: Earth Observatory. Image credit: NASA [left]; March 2002. Earth Observatory. Image credit: NASA [right]

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January 2011. Image credit: NASA. Read more: NASA Image of the Day

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March 1996. Image credit: NASA

You can find even more photos taken by the astronauts on the International Space Station at the Gateway to Astronaut Photography, and photographs just from current Expedition 42 in this interactive map. If you want to confirm your mountain-identification, I've slipped annotated versions of the images in the comments here.

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