Let’s go on a brief meander through the world’s waterways. From the spires of Vienna to the depths of the Congo, rivers punctuate almost every landscape on Earth, bringing life-giving water to plants, animals, and people, and often defining entire ecosystems.
These superlative waterways are foremost of their kind – whether very long, very deep, or quite literally out of this world…
The World's Longest River
From its source in Africa’s tropical highlands, through the jungles of Ethiopia and the wastes of the Sahara, to finally emptying into the Mediterranean, the Nile’s gargantuan length totals 6,695 kilometers, marginally pipping the much more voluminous Amazon to the title of world’s longest river.
The river’s two main tributaries – the White Nile and the Blue Nile – meet in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, one of countless cities and settlements to have gained subsistence from the Nile down the millennia.
The River That Runs Through Most Capital Cities
Though this may say more about Europe’s density than its geography, the Danube holds the double distinction of flowing through more capital cities (four) than any other river, and more countries (ten) than any besides the Nile.
From its source in southern Germany, the river runs through Austrian capital Vienna, Slovakian capital Bratislava, Hungarian capital Budapest, and Serbian capital Belgrade, before nipping through Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Ukraine and decanting into the Black Sea.
The World's Shortest River
In 1987, a class of high school students in Great Falls, Montana, and their teacher Susie Nardlinger campaigned to get a 61-meter tributary of the Missouri recognized as the world’s shortest river. The ‘river’ was not named, so the students officially christened the creek the River Roe, and successfully landed an official Guinness world record, plus a slot on The Tonight Show.
It was classic feel-good fare until the people of Lincoln City, Oregon, whose D River had held the record, remeasured their candidate at “extreme high tide”, sparking the kind of local spat that can only stem from something silly.
Things turned ugly when the Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce described the Roe as “a drainage ditch surveyed for a school project,” and Nardlinger dismissed the D as “ocean water backup.” Guinness, who clearly had no stomach for the fight, quietly abolished the category.
The Longest River Photographed on Another Planet
Though hardly a ‘world’ record, this is an official record with an official incumbent. On Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, a ‘river’ of liquid methane flows 412 kilometers through deep-cut canyons into a methane sea.
It seems unlikely this record would stand galaxy-wide. In theory, an infinite universe contains infinitely long rivers, so when humanity expands across the cosmos, expect this record to change.
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On the 25th of March 1655, Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens discovered Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. 💚 Since then, this Saturnian satellite has become one of the most intriguing moons in our solar system. This world of liquid hydrocarbon lakes, ice rocks, and cryovolcanoes could in fact be a life harboring one. But whether or not this is true, remains to be seen. In the meantime we can only hope and dream to see what secrets future missions will reveal of this world. 🤓🖖🏻 . . . pic: This composite image shows an infrared view of Saturn’s moon Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, acquired during the mission’s “T-114” flyby on Nov. 13, 2015. The spacecraft’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) instrument made these observations, in which blue represents wavelengths centered at 1.3 microns, green represents 2.0 microns, and red represents 5.0 microns. A view at visible wavelengths (centered around 0.5 microns) would show only Titan’s hazy atmosphere (as in PIA14909). The near-infrared wavelengths in this image allow Cassini’s vision to penetrate the haze and reveal the moon’s surface.👀 . . . . . #nasa #nasajpl #titan #moon #saturnsmoon #cassini #cassinihuygens #cassinimission #spacescience #spaceexploration #solarsystem #moontitan #astronomer #christiaanhuygens #space #views #spacecraft #research #science #artandtechnology #artandscience #plasmamagazine #spacelife #stayhome #staysafe #astronomy.
The World's Deepest River
It’s difficult to precisely establish river depth without sending down divers, but in 2008 scientists on the Congo River used echo sounders and GPS systems to measure depths of at least 220 meters – beyond the reach of natural light.
They were first alerted by a strange spate of blind, pale fish that only surfaced when dying or dead. The fish evolved in the freshwater equivalent of the deep sea, and when currents occasionally forced them to the surface, they promptly died of the bends.
The River With the Largest Fish
Though there are elephantine species of sturgeon that switch between saltwater and freshwater, the Mekong giant catfish is widely considered the largest all-freshwater fish, and almost certainly the largest ever verified.
In 2005, Thai fishermen dredged up a 2.7-meter, 293-kilogram whopper the size of a small whale. From Megalodon to Moby Dick, giant marine creatures have long fascinated anglers and storytellers, and the hunt for even bigger fish continues.
Almost Everything Else
If we discussed each of the Amazon’s records separately, it would take over this list. It’s the world’s widest river, maxing out at 11km; it’s the world’s fastest river; and it’s the world’s largest river, with roughly 20% of the world’s fresh water flowing through it. It also boasts the world’s largest drainage basin.