Science & Technology

Find Out Where Your House Would Have Been on Pangea

The world looked a whole lot different a couple million years ago. We're not just talking about how everybody lived in stone houses and used pterodactyls instead of record players, because, well, that isn't true at all. The continents were in completely different places — and if you go back far enough, you'll reach Pangea: the last time all of the continents were mashed together in one mega-continent. Now, with the help of a new website, you can watch exactly how the continents collided and how they fell back apart again. Even better, you can find out just where your pterodactyl-equipped stone house would have been if it really had existed.

One Continent, One Love

Earth hasn't always been a planet of seven continents splashed evenly across the globe. It's often been home to a single continent plastered right in the middle of a worldwide ocean. That continent eventually breaks up, and then it reforms, and so on and so forth, all while everything that has ever lived on it hardly takes notice, aside from the occasional earthquake. The last time that all of the continents were all smashed together — before the world's last real rock band broke up — was about 175 million years ago. That continent was known as Pangea, and we can still see it in the puzzle pieces of today's surviving land masses.

Of course, you don't have to assemble the world's largest jigsaw together in your mind in order to appreciate the geological history of the planet. Thanks to a software engineer and passionate dinosaur enthusiast named Ian Webster, anybody can load up an ancient map and pinpoint a modern address in any of 26 different geological eras. It's a fascinating way to connect yourself to the planet's history. When we typed in the address of the Curiosity office, we got to watch its locale transform from a city by the Great Lakes to a wild spot resting on the edge of a massive bay that would eventually become the Mississippi River. The further back you go, the closer Chicago and the rest of North America drifts back toward the African continent. Eventually, around 220 million years ago, you'll find Florida wedged firmly between South America and Africa, while the region that will eventually become Europe and Asia hovers a little bit overhead. This is the beginning of the end for Pangea, and the beginning of the beginning for the age of the dinosaurs.

While the dinosaurs were growing larger, the ground beneath their feet was literally breaking apart. After Pangea came two sub-supercontinents: Laurasia (consisting of North America, Europe, and Asia) to the north, and Gondwanaland (Africa, South America, Australia, and Antarctica) to the south. They broke into their current configurations later, and this division still going on today. Remember when we told you about how Africa is splitting into two continents? That's the same exact process, just a few million years on.

The Supercontinents of Our Lives

Of course, Pangea was only the most recent of Earth's many supercontinents. The very earliest ones might strain our definition of the word "super," although they pass the bar by virtue of being comprised of all of the land available. Ur (and possibly its predecessor Valbaara) would have only been about half the size of Australia, and but it made up for its size in longevity. Sustaining for nearly 3 billion years, Ur was likely the longest-lived continent ever. Later supercontinents included Kenorland, Columbia, and Rodinia. The motion of these continents had a tremendous effect on the environment, with the break up of Rodinia being largely responsible for the ice age that preceded the Cambrian Era. That was all about 550 million years ago — still about 100 million years before the evolution of the first vertebrates. Pangea came next, and after that? Who knows — but the next supercontinent will probably come into existence in about 100 million years, give or take.

The story of our planet is one of the most exciting dramas ever told. Watch what happens when the lava hits the road in Ted Nield's "Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

This Is What Will Happen in the Next Billion Years

Written by Reuben Westmaas July 27, 2018

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