Grab your map and check out fascinating facts that will both hurt your brain and warp your sense of geography, from the surprising place with the world’s longest coastline to the state that’s home to a Daylight Saving donut.

Alaska is famous for being the biggest state in the U.S., but it holds another, arguably more impressive distinction: Thanks to its unique geography, Alaska is simultaneously the easternmost and westernmost state. The fact that it stretches farther west than Hawaii and California is obvious from looking at a map, but its claim to the east is more surprising. Eastern and western longitudes are demarcated by the 180th meridian, which falls on the exact opposite side of the globe from the Prime Meridian passing through Greenwich, England. The 180th meridian cuts through Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. That means after watching the sun rise over America’s easternmost point on Semisopochnoi Island, you could take a boat 70 miles to Amatignak Island and watch it set over the westernmost spot. 

Despite occupying opposite sides of the 180th meridian, Amatignak Island and Semisopochnoi Island aren’t a full day apart. The Aleutian Islands and Hawaii all fall within the Hawaii–Aleutian Time Zone, which doesn’t correspond with neat, longitudinal lines. Rather, it’s marked by an awkward, jagged line that keeps “western” Islands on western time and “eastern” islands on eastern time. That’s why Samoa is a full day ahead of American Samoa, even though they’re less than a hundred miles away from each other. If you have access to a boat, you can celebrate the planet’s first New Year’s in Samoa and experience one of the last celebrations in American Samoa.

vintage map with focus on Russia

Russia has 11 time zones. / belterz/E+/Getty Images

The clock varies wildly depending on where you are in Russia, which spans 11 time zones. That means when one side of the country is serving breakfast, the other is sitting down for dinner. The country has a maximum east-to-west extent of about 5600 miles, which is basically like driving from Miami to Los Angeles … and then back.

But though Russia is the biggest country on Earth by area doesn’t mean it boasts the most time zones. That superlative goes to France, which bests Russia with 12. This is mainly accomplished through their territories around the globe.

China, which is nearly as wide as the contiguous U.S., adheres to a single time zone known as Beijing Time. This can result in people eating dinner at midnight, or taking school tests after sundown. The system causes the most confusion in the westernmost region of Xinjiang, where your ethnicity may determine the time you observe. The Turkic-speaking Uighurs who reside there usually set their clocks two hours behind Beijing Time, aligning with neighboring Kazakhstan. The Han Chinese who live there are more likely to live by the government’s clock, which can make coordinating plans a headache. 

Map of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah showing the Daylight Saving Donut

Daylight Saving Time can make the already-awkward time zone system a nightmare to navigate. Arizona isn’t wanting for sun in the desert, so the state chooses to bypass Daylight Saving each year. This becomes especially confusing when you enter the Navajo Nation. Because the semi-autonomous reservation spans Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, and two of the three states do save their daylight, the Navajo Nation decided it was just easier to keep everyone on the same time and go ahead with changing their clocks. But the Hopi reservation, which falls fully within the Arizona part of the Navajo Nation, didn’t see a need to be separate from the rest of the state. So for over half of the year, Arizona is home to a daylight saving donut where the Navajo Nation is an hour ahead of the land inside and around it. 

Map of California and Nevada

Look closely and you’ll see that Reno is actually west of Los Angeles. / AdShooter/E+/Getty Images

If you’ve been to Reno, Nevada, you’ve been farther west than Los Angeles. Despite being 300 miles inland, the biggest little city on Earth is technically 86 miles west of the coastal California city. My brain is really starting to hurt now.

If you’ve been to Maine, you weren’t as far north as you might have assumed. It’s true that Estcourt Station, Maine, is the northernmost community in the state, but compared to much of Europe it’s not that high on the map. London, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam are all further North than the Pine Tree State.

Maine is also farther east than you may have thought. The peninsula of West Quoddy Head is (ignoring the Alaska technicality) the easternmost point of the U.S. mainland, extending farther into the Atlantic than any state below it. It comes within just 3154 miles of El Beddouza, Morocco, making Maine the closest state to mainland Africa. For reference, Florida is around 4000 miles away.

Texas is the second-biggest state in the U.S. behind Alaska, covering a land area of  260,000 some miles. Its population in 2022 was 30 million, but that’s nowhere near its maximum occupancy. It’s often stated that if the state was as densely populated as New York City, it could fit the planet’s entire population of nearing 8 billion people—but running the current numbers for world population, you’d also have to take over half of Arkansas to make that work. For some perspective, if the world had the same population density as Houston, it would cover over 2.2 million square miles, which would cover around two-thirds of the land area of the U.S.

Though Canada beats the United States in size, it doesn’t come close to matching its population. There are about 40 million people living there, and about 332 million in the U.S. Canada’s population just barely exceeds the 37.2 million residents of Tokyo’s greater metro area. If Canada’s population seems small for such a big country, keep in mind that 60 percent of it is below Seattle’s latitude. Both Toronto and Montreal—Canada’s biggest metros—fall below the Washington city. That means huge swaths of the country are largely uninhabited.

Map of Canada

Canada has the longest coastline in the world. / mikroman6/Moment/Getty Images

Even with its impressive size, you may not expect Canada to boast the longest coast on Earth. You might presume Russia, or perhaps Australia.  But the Great White North’s islands and mainland beaches add up to a record-breaking 151,019 miles of shoreline.

At least that’s the length given by Canada’s national statistical office. Calculating a number everyone can agree on is impossible thanks to something called the Coastline Paradox. Measuring coastlines in big units leaves out these divots and bends. Working with smaller units arguably produces more accurate measurements, but it becomes impractical fast. The intricacies of a shoreline can be broken down to the molecular level, and at that point the measurements can appear to approach infinity. So rather than calculating coastlines on a galactic scale, cartographers agree to work in big units and put away the measuring tape. 

Even when measured in miles or kilometers, small countries can boast surprisingly big coastlines. Thanks to its many fjords and islands, Norway’s coast measures roughly 64,000 miles. That makes it longer than Russia’s, despite the country’s relatively small size.

Thala Beach, Port Douglas, Australia

Thala Beach, Port Douglas, Australia. / Tim Graham/GettyImages

But Norway’s probably not top of your list for beach vacations. Australia might be, and if you went on a beach tour of the country, you’d have plenty of choices—a 2006 analysis [PDF] found that Australia has 10,685 mainland beaches. If you visited one a day that would be over 29 years of beach-going. 

Australia can also hold its own against our solar system’s heavenly bodies. It stretches 2500 miles from east coast to west coast, making it wider than the moon’s diameter. In terms of land area, it definitely does not beat the moon, but when it comes to width, Australia takes the cake.

Close up of globe showing Australia and New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand are actually pretty far apart. / Juanmonino/E+/Getty Images

Foreigners sometimes treat New Zealand and Australia as one in the same, much to the annoyance of the people who live there. But in addition to their distinct cultures, the two countries are far apart geographically speaking. There are about a thousand miles of ocean separating them—a distance big enough to fit an entire second Australia.

Map of the world using the Mercator Projection.

“The World on Mercator’s Projection,’ circa the 1880s. / THEPALMER/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

The Mercator projection hanging up in countless classrooms has been criticized for putting an unrealistic emphasis on Europe. It’s the reason many people think Greenland is comparable in size to Africa, when in reality the continent is about 14 times bigger than the island. Maps that more accurately present the area look like this.

The popular map is also to blame for literally placing Europe at the center of the world. Many versions cut off most of Antarctica, which moves Europe to the vertical middle and pushes the equator about two-thirds of the way down the map. If publishers wanted to be more accurate, they would put Africa at the center of their maps. It’s the only continent to cross both the equator and the prime meridian.  

This story was adapted from an episode of The List Show on YouTube. Subscribe to Mental Floss on YouTube to make sure you never miss a new video.


Michele Debczak

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