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Even for the most avid explorers, this planet of ours hides more than a few surprises — like the fact that approximately 90% of the population lives in the Northern Hemisphere and Reno, Nevada is farther west than Los Angeles, for instance. For more earth-shaking information — like which state is simultaneously the westernmost, easternmost, and northernmost in the U.S. — avail yourself of the following 20 facts that will change how you look at the world.
Around 90% of the Planet's Population Lives in the Northern Hemisphere
When we think about where people live, many of us assume that each hemisphere has a good number of residents. In reality, most of the world's population is located in the Northern Hemisphere, leaving the Southern Hemisphere nearly uninhabited by this study's standards. Around 90% of the people on the planet live in the Northern part of the world in countries such as the U.S. and China, making the rest of the world look a bit sparse.
Continents Shift at the Same Speed That Your Fingernails Grow
If you were awake during social studies class, you will remember that the planet's tectonic plates are in a state of near-constant movement. This is how the earth went from having basically one big continent to having seven. For around 40 million years, the continents were in a slow phase, moving away from each other at a rate of about one millimeter per year. Then, about 200 million years ago, things got kicked into high gear and the plates began to move at 20 millimeters per year, which, scientists say, is equivalent to the speed at which fingernails grow.
Reno, Nevada, Is Farther West Than Los Angeles
Los Angeles is typically seen as the West Coast city. It is right next to the ocean and it has all those beaches, so it would make sense for it to be farther west than a desert city like Reno, Nevada, right? Wrong: Reno is actually around 86 miles farther west than Los Angeles, due to the curve of California and the placement of the states.
Asia Is Bigger Than the Moon
Continuing on this same shocking track, the moon isn't as big as it looks, either. Still, though, it is around 27 percent of the size of Earth and has 14.6 million square miles of surface area. Although this seems like a lot, it is significantly less than the total surface area of Asia, which is 17.2 million square miles, making Earth's biggest continent significantly larger than the moon.
Mount Everest Is Not the World's Tallest Mountain
If someone asks you "What is the tallest mountain in the world?" you will surely answer, "Why, Mount Everest, of course — everyone knows that." But sadly, you would be wrong. Technically, Mount Everest is the tallest mountain above sea level, but it isn't the tallest in the world. This honor goes to Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Mauna Kea rises up 13,796 feet above sea level (compared to Everest's 29,035 feet), but it also extends down an additional 19,700 feet below sea level into the Pacific Ocean. Making this mountain even cooler is the fact that it's actually a volcano that last erupted 4,600 years ago.
Alaska Is the Westernmost, Easternmost and Northernmost State in the U.S.
This sounds impossible, but we assure you it's true. From looking at a map, it's pretty obvious that Alaska is the northernmost state in the country. What's surprising? The Aleutian Islands between Russia and Alaska boast the westernmost point of the United States, but in what seems like some sort of geographical oxymoron, they are also home to the easternmost point of the U.S. too. An island called Semisopochnoi (which just so happens to be a collapsed volcano) has a spot that sits so far to the west (around 10 miles west of the Prime Meridian) that it actually becomes easternmost spot in the U.S.
Maine Is the Closest State to Africa
When you think of Maine, its proximity to Africa probably doesn't come to mind. Surprisingly, though, Maine is the closest U.S. state to Africa, as the Quoddy Head peninsula is within 3,154 miles of El Beddouza, Africa. The two are divided by the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean and not much else, so if you ever want to say that you came close to visiting Africa without actually leaving the country, head to the Pine Tree State.
If You Head South From Detroit, You Could End Up in Canada
We can hear you now: "Wait a second — isn't Canada north of the United States?" And the answer to this is yes...and no. Most of Canada is above the U.S. on the map, but a small part of it reaches down just underneath Detroit. Because of this, traveling south and slightly to the east from a few places in Detroit could bring you to Canada, which may or may not be disorienting.
Minnesota Has the Most Shoreline in the United States
Minnesota has been called the "land of 10,000 lakes," and it has the shoreline to prove it. Minnesota has an incredible 90,000 miles of shoreline, which is more than Florida, California, and Hawaii combined.
Europe Is Home to Six Microstates
When you think of the world's tiniest countries, the island nations of the Caribbean or the South Pacific might pop into your mind. In fact, six of the world's smallest countries, or microstates, are located in Europe. The world's smallest country is Vatican City, inside of Rome, which is home to the Roman Catholic Church and is ruled by the Pope; Italy is also home to the microstate of San Marino, the world's oldest constitutional republic and sovereign state. The other four European microstates include Monaco on the French Riviera, Andorra in the Pyrenees Mountains, Liechtenstein sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, and the small archipelago of Malta, which lies in the Mediterranean.
Europe's Largest City Lies in Two Continents
Turkey's largest city and Europe's largest city, Istanbul, straddles the Bosphorus Strait, which separates Europe from Asia. Figuratively and literally, Istanbul is where East meets West. Once part of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, the city's rich history is rooted in Christianity and Islam. The "old" city of Istanbul lies on a peninsula with seven hills that were the attraction for the Byzantine Emperor Constantine when he conquered Istanbul as "New Rome" and changed the name to Constantinople. Visitors to the city can travel across the Bosphorus between continents several ways, including taking one of the many ferry crossings, driving or riding across one of the world's three largest suspension bridges, driving through a tunnel, or taking a passenger train through a tunnel.
The Mediterranean Sea Was Once a Desert
If you've spent any time on the shores of the Mediterranean, you might find it hard to believe the picturesque seascape was once a desert. Scientists believe the sea dried up about five million years ago as a result of upward movement by the earth's crust, causing the Straits of Gibraltar to act as a dam and seal off the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean. This epoch is also referred to as "The Messinian Salinity Crisis." Before the sea was blocked off, saltwater from the Atlantic rushed into the sea and couldn't escape. When the water dried up, layers of salt created a mile-high salt wall and all the sea life died.
Europe Has a Rainforest
The thought of a rainforest conjures up images of stunning and endless flora and fauna found in the Amazon and other tropical locations, making it likely that Europe doesn't cross your mind. If you travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, you will find Perućica, a rainforest and one of two remaining old-growth forests in Europe. The forest lies within Sutjeska National Park and remains protected. Nicknamed "the Lungs of Europe," Perućica is home to more than 170 species of trees and bushes, including beech, fir, spruce, and mountain maple, as well as more than 1,000 species of herbaceous plants. Visitors especially enjoy the panoramic views from Vidikovac, a lookout point for Skakavac Waterfall, which falls 246 feet into a forest-covered valley.
Greenland Is Not Its Own Country
The days of Spanish exploration, the Great British Empire, and European geographic colonization are gone, with many countries having long since gained independence from their motherland. Some overseas territories still do exist, however, and Greenland is one of them. It's technically an autonomous territory of Denmark as well as the world's largest island (three times the size of Texas!) when you don't consider the continent of Australia. Greenland is known for its large ice sheet, expansive tundra, and native Inuit residents.
Europe Is Larger Than Australia
Maps distort our perception of the world, especially in terms of country and continent size, because it's difficult to project the circular globe onto a flat surface with a high degree of accuracy. For example, the common Mercator map has been criticized for exaggerating the size of countries closer to the poles while downplaying the size of countries and continents near the equator. When you look at the map, Australia appears quite large, making Europe the obvious candidate for the "Smallest Continent Award." To be fair, Australia is a large landmass that would qualify as the largest island in the world if it weren't a continent. With all that said, Europe is actually larger than Australia by about 30 percent.
Europe Is Home to the Second-Most Active Volcano in the World
Mt. Etna, located in Sicily, is the second-most active volcano in the world behind Hawaii's Kilauea. Etna (which made the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2013) has regular volcanic ash eruptions but hasn't had a major eruption since the winter of 2008-2009. Those who visit undoubtedly want to hike to the craters, which can be accessed from the north and south side of Mt. Etna with an experienced tour guide. When Etna's activity isn't high or causing earthquakes, adventure-seekers can explore the volcano's ancient lava flows, caves, and active fumaroles as they hike along the sides of the volcano.
At Its Closest Point, Asia Is Only About 50 Miles From North America
For those living in North America, Asia can feel like it's on the other side of the world. After all, one is in the Western Hemisphere and the other occupies the eastern half of the globe. The average flight time from Asia to North America is about 16 hours, which is no small undertaking, but the two continents aren't as far apart as you might think. Asia and North America are only about 53 miles apart at the Bering Strait, a body of water that separates Russia and Alaska. It's believed that during the Ice Age, the water levels in the Bering Strait fell so low that the area became a land bridge between Asia and North America, which allowed both animals and people to migrate from one continent to the other.
Asia Has the Highest and Lowest Points in the World
The title of "Highest Point in the World" officially belongs to Mount Everest, which sits on the border of Nepal and Tibet. This massive mountain peak reaches an amazing 29,035 feet above sea level. That measurement might change in the future, however. The Washington Post reports that a Nepalese group is working on re-measuring the mountain, as they believe it might have shrunk after an 2015 earthquake. Even so, the new measurements are unlikely to take away the mountain's title as the world's highest point.
The lowest point on Earth lies 3,000 miles to the east of Mount Everest, along the borders of Israel and Jordan. That honor belongs to the Dead Sea, which sits at 1,377 feet below sea level — and is getting even lower. The Dead Sea sits on top of a tectonic fault line that causes the sea to sink about a meter every year. The Dead Sea also has a 30% salinity rate, making it 10 times saltier than seawater. All that salt makes swimmers much more buoyant, hence all the photos you've seen of visitors floating on the surface.
A Dozen Asian Countries Are Landlocked
Asia contains 48 countries. That's about one-quarter of the world's countries on one continent. Since it's so massive, not every country is fortunate enough to border a major body of water. In fact, 12 of Asia's countries are landlocked, meaning they don't have direct access to the sea. These landlocked countries are Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Laos, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
As noted by the World Bank, there are some real disadvantages to being landlocked. These countries have a difficult time with imports and exports, as both take longer to reach their final destinations when traveling overland instead of by sea. Landlocked countries often pay more for goods as well, thanks to the added difficulty of getting goods in and out.
One Plateau in Central Asia Provides Water to Two Billion People
Central Asia is home to a high, flat plain called the Tibetan Plateau that covers an area of land roughly the size of the western United States. It sits about 16,400 feet above sea level, earning it the nickname "Roof of the World." It's not just geography that makes the Tibetan Plateau an interesting place, however: It's also notable thanks to its role in providing water to more than two billion of the continent's residents.
The plateau contains the highest number of glaciers outside of the North and South Poles and the water runs into Asia's largest rivers as the glaciers melt, including the Yangtze and Mekong rivers. Unfortunately, manufacturing and mining in the area are putting those freshwater resources at risk. Activists are encouraging the governments to step in to protect this precious water source that flows to billions of people and sustains life all across Asia.