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Map of Pangea reveals which countries were neighbors 300 million years ago

Enter an ancient version of Earth, where Santa Claus lives in South Korea, Cuba is land-locked, and Antarctica and India share the same climate.

'Pangea Politico' by Massimo Pietrobon.

Trivia nights would have been a lot easier 300 million years ago. In the Early Permian Epoch, Earth had one just one ocean, Panthalassa, with one massive supercontinent in it, Pangea.

Pangea is just one of several supercontinents our planet has created over its 3.5 billion year history. They form as Earth's tectonic plates slide over its mantle, a process that breaks up landmasses and reforms them in new combinations—which is why geologists just found a chunk of Canada sticking to Australia, or why fossils of Lystrosaurus, a stocky, pig-like reptile, are found in the very separate locations of Antarctica, India and South Africa, and nowhere else. The slow grind of continents is imperceptible to us, but it is happening right this minute. “Continents on these plates typically move, I would say, at the rate your fingernails grow," geologist Ross Mitchell tells NPR.

Where were we 300 million years ago?

Absolutely nowhere—life on Pangea was human-free (pause for wistful thinking), but when we puzzle-fit the modern continents back to where they were 300 million years ago, it reveals how your country may have shared its borders with some very different neighbors.

This conceptual map called 'Pangea Politico' was designed by amateur cartographer Massimo Pietrobon to show how different the world would be if Pangea hadn't broken up some 200 million years ago. Pietrobon's map is more about politics than total geological accuracy, so the scales of some nations aren't perfect, but it shows the approximate location of how our modern world sat atop the old tectonic plate arrangement.


To zoom, click the map. Image credit: Massimo Pietrobon.

With great gusto, Pietrobon describes an ancient world where America and Russia are cozier neighbors, Santa Claus lives in South Korea, Cuba is land-locked, and Antarctica and India share the same climate. As translated (imperfectly) from Italian:

“And so the United States find themselves in front of the muzzle all the Arabs, while in the south they border directly with both Cuba and Colombia!
We Europeans, on the other hand, find Africa at home at last. Enough of the thousands of deaths at sea to get to Europe, now they get there by bike!
Again, finally, African Americans get together with their African cousins tout-court and can visit them by bus.
Not only that, the Moroccans will finally lead to Quebec on foot!"

'Pangea Politico' makes a timely and ultimately humanitarian statement about our borders and political feuds. “Gathering the world in one piece of land represents a return to the unity of the planet, to the unity of the human race, in spite of the divisions that are so convenient for our rulers!" writes Pietrobon.

Taking a long view of geology results in the same epiphany astronauts experience when they look at our pale blue dot from way out there. As Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell famously said: “From out there on the moon, international politics looks so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch."

Where will we be 250 million years from now?

So we've seen the past in Pangea. What about the future? Current plate movements are slowly reshaping the world once again. Africa is on a collision course with southern Europe, as is the Australian Plate with Southeast Asia. Over the next 250 million years, it's very likely Earth will form another supercontinent of epic proportions, although experts disagree on exactly how it will come together—will it be Amasia, Pangea Proxima, or Novopangaea? Whether that landmass is a human-free place too is anyone's guess, but if so, let's hope it's for the right reasons and not the wrong ones.


Amasia forming over the North Pole. Source: Yale University, Nature

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
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Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

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Politics & Current Affairs
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