Believe it or not, nobody knows for sure the true height of the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest.
It was generally thought to be 29,028 feet high after it was measured by an Indian survey in 1954. But China says the world’s highest mountain (which it calls Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng) is only 29,015 feet -- China's view excludes the snowcap from its calculations.
Meanwhile, the U.S. National Geographic Society officially says Mount Everest stands at 29,035 feet following a U.S. team’s 1999 survey using GPS technology.
Now the Himalayan state of Nepal, who’s border with China straddles the peak, is appealing for international help to finally get the true height. Nepal's state-run Survey Department told the news agency AFP it was seeking to obtain grants and expertise from international donors, as well as the global scientific community.
"This is part of the ongoing three-year Nepal government project to settle the mountain's height. But we have neither the scientific expertise nor the resources to carry out such tasks," director-general Krishna Raj BC said.
How high IS Everest, anyway? Scroll down to see
The height is important for the countries involved as the border between Nepal and China straddles the actual summit.
Mount Everest, since its discovery by Western explorers, has attracted numerous people to try and climb it, map it -- and measure its true height.
Until a British survey of the Indian subcontinent in 1852, it was thought the tallest mountains in the world were in the South American Andes. But in an amazing feat of audacity and mathematics, the surveyors managed to establish the height of Mountain Everest (or Peak XV as it was called at the time) at 29,002 feet, just 26 feet off the current height.
The Great Trigonometric Survey of British India involved a "theodolite," a mathematical measuring device that was the size of a small horse.
When you consider that the government of Nepal didn’t allow the British survey team into the country and were forced to view and measure the mountain from over 100 miles away, their achievement becomes even more astounding.
Wondering where the English name for Mount Everest comes from? The person who began the 50-year survey of the Indian Subcontinent was Sir George Everest.
The plan today to finally get the correct height of Mount Everest will be very different, but perhaps as difficult. It will involve Nepalese sherpas carrying Global Positioning System equipment into the treacherous mountains to get a fix on the summit.
Stations will be set up at three different locations, and using the GPS gear should measure the peak within two years.
It won’t settle the dispute between the Nepalese and the Chinese, however, unless they agree to include the snowcap on top -- but at least the wider world will know the mountain's true height.
One ineluctable factor merits consideration in these precise calculations: The Indian subcontinent tectonic plate is still smashing into the Himalayan plate, a process that has been going on for millions of years. That's what created Mount Everest in the first place.
Perhaps within a thousand years, it might be worth measuring the peak again.