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What is the longest river in the world? Is it the Amazon, the Nile, or the Mississippi? The River Nile is the longest river in the world. It is 6,650 km long and drains an area of 3,349,000 square km. The Amazon drains an much larger area, but is shorter by 250 km.
The Nile has two major tributaries: the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The White Nile is the source of the majority of the Nile’s water and fertile soil. The White Nile originates from Africa’s Great lkes region(lakes Victoria, Edward, Tanganyika, etc.). The Blue Nile starts at Lake Tana in Ethiopia. The two rivers meet near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. The northern section of the Nile flows entirely through the Sahara Desert. Most of the population and cities of the countries along the river lie along the river valley. The Nile ends in a large delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea.
The Nile was a much longer river in ancient times. There was a third tributary called the Yellow Nile that connected the highlands of eastern Chad to the Nile River Valley from 8000 to 1000 B.C. Its remains are known as the Wadi Howar and passes through the northern border of Chad and meets the Nile near the southern point of the Great Bend. During the Miocene era, Lake Tangnayika drained northwards into the Albert Nile, making the Nile about 1,400 km. That portion of the river was blocked by the Virunga Volcanoes.
The Nile as it exists today is thought to be the fifth river that has flowed from the Ethiopian Highlands. Some form of the Nile is believed to have existed for 25 million years. Satellite images have been used to identify dry watercourses to the west of the Nile. A canyon, now filled by surface drift, represents an ancestral Nile called the Eonile that flowed during the Miocene. The Eonile transported clastic sediments to the Mediterranean. Several natural gas fields exist where these sediments remained.
The headwaters of the Nile were virtually unknown until the 19th century. Lake Victoria was first sighted by Europeans in 1858 by John Speke. He reached its southern shore while with Richard Burton on an expedition to explore central Africa. He thought he had found the source of the Nile, so he named it after the English queen at the time, Victoria. Burton was outraged that Speke claimed to have found the true source of the Nile because he did not believe it was. This dispute started a wave of exploration that sent David Livengstone to the area, but he failed by pushing too far to the west into the Congo River. Ultimately it was Henry Stanley who confirmed of Speke’s theory by circumnavigating Lake Victoria and reporting the great outflow of water at Ripon Falls on the northern shore.
Not only is the River Nile the answer to ‘what is the longest river in the world’, but it is the main reason for the rise of the Egyptian culture and the major source of the livelihoods for the peoples in the countries through which it flows.
We have written many articles about Nile River for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the world’s widest river, and here are some pictures of the Nile River.
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about planet Earth. Listen here, Episode 51: Earth.