Where would you go to get as far away from the Earth as possible while still being on the Earth?

Mount Chimborazo, elevation 6,263.47 m (20,549.4 ft)

The summit of Mt. Everest is the highest point above sea level. But sea level is not as far from the center of the Earth at Everest’s latitude as it is at the Equator. If you want to find the highest point on Earth as measured from the center of the Earth, you need to look near the Equator, because swimming in the sea at the Equator you are already further from the center than if you were standing atop Everest! (And so much more accessible!)

I actually located the spot in Mexico City! The streets of the neighborhood we moved into are named after mountains and mountain ranges. Our place was on Mount Chimborazo — Mount What??! Wikipedia soon set me straight. My guess, that it was located in Malaysia, was off by about as far as possible; it’s in Ecuador (surprise, surprise).

But first some history. While exploring the Andes, Von Humboldt and his French sidekick spied Chimborazo and just on the basis of visual inspection were pretty sure that it was higher than Mount Elbrus, which in those Eurocentric times was deemed the highest mountain in the world. To confirm their suspicions, the two set out with their altimeter to make the necessary measurements. They were still far from the summit, when a great cliff towered over them. Lacking the equipment (and no doubt the skill) to scale this wall, they figured they might as well take a measurement where they were. To their amazement and delight, they found they were already higher than the summit of Mount Elbrus. Von Humboldt revelled in the fame this discovery would bring to him. His sidekick said, “Hold on a minute! What about me?” (or something to that effect). Soon enough they were exchanging blows — until they both collapsed from exhaustion. They realized they were suffering from high-altitude delirium, gradually pulled themselves together, and headed for safer ground.

A prior expedition to Ecuador had already established that sea level worldwide (and solid Earth) did not conform to a perfect sphere, being somewhat oblate. Nonetheless, Chimborazo’s claim to being the highest mountain did not last long. After all, mountain climbers do not begin their ascents from the center of the Earth! Be that as it may, the summit of Chimborazo is in point of fact, many kilometers further from the center of the Earth than the summit of Everest. So let’s hear it for Aimé Bonpland (Von Humboldt’s sidekick).

So much for the greatest distance from the center of the Earth, what about the smallest distance to the center of the Sun? At noon, during an equinox, are you as close as possible to the Sun if you are atop Chimborazo? No, because on January 4, Earth’s elliptical orbit takes it so much closer to the Sun, and at that time the southern hemisphere nears its summer solstice. I would venture that Mount Aconcagua (a few blocks away!) easily beats out Chimborazo. But one would have to perform some pretty sophisticated calculations to determine which summit was the true champ.

Snap quiz: Where would you go to get as close to the center of the Earth as possible (without penetrating it)? Hint: not the Marianas Trench. And who were the first there? Hint: they stayed dry.

Geognosticator