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The Reason Long Island Isn't Considered an Island

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Here’s a deceptive question: Is Long Island an island? It’s surrounded on all sides by water, yet for legal purposes, it isn’t an island. In 1985, all nine justices on the Supreme Court agreed. Long Island, that mass of land completely surrounded by water, is not an island. It’s a peninsula. One that just happens to have a little water between it and the mainland. 

The case in question, United States v. Maine, arose over disputes between states and the federal government over who legally controls the water between the eastern tip of Long Island and Rhode Island (Block Island Sound).

If Long Island were legally an island, that water would be considered the open sea, and therefore be regulated by the federal government. As a peninsula, the water around it (and the soil at the bottom of the sound) comes under the authority of the states surrounding it. 

Image Credit: Google Maps

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s geographically unsound ruling, the island is an extension of the New York mainland, and ships passing through the bay to its north need a state-licensed captain, per New York and Rhode Island law. Here’s the Supreme Court’s logic on why the island is not an island, according to the Long Island-based newspaper Newsday:

The court was led to its conclusion as a result of Long Island's shape and relation to the corresponding coast. According to the ruling, Long Island's north shore follows the south shore of the opposite mainland. But the shapes of the two lands almost completely surround the Long Island Sound.

The court also determined that Long Island and the adjacent shore share a common geological history, which contributes to its lack of island-ness. Deposits of sediment and rocks from the mainland formed the shores by ice sheets that retreated thousands of years ago, according to the ruling.

Technically, the East River, the body of water that separates Long Island from Manhattan and the Bronx (on the New York mainland), is a tidal strait, rather than a river. Since the East River is relatively shallow, difficult for ships to navigate, and not an outlet to the sea, it doesn’t count, the Court essentially argued. Newsday points out that scientific experts don't support this argument—geologically, the two islands are made of very different kinds of rock that formed at millions of years apart. But, as a matter of political expediency, it’s more convenient for Long Island to be a peninsula so New York can exercise jurisdiction over it (and reap whatever natural resources it can from that). 

While it may have simplified interstate squabbles, the demotion to peninsula status did cause Long Island to lose out on its designation as the longest island in the lower 48 states.

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Most People Consistently Visit 25 Different Places in Their Daily Lives
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We move around a lot less during our daily lives than you might expect. Based on data from 40,000 people, a new study on human mobility finds that we tend to frequent only 25 places at any given time in our lives.

In the study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, researchers from City, University of London, the Technical University of Denmark, and Sony Mobile Communications found that people tend to have a maximum number of 25 places that they visit regularly, and if they begin frequenting a new place, they probably stop going to another, keeping their total number of haunts constant.

The researchers used several different datasets to understand how people move through their lives, including studies with college students and university employees, data from a smartphone activity tracker called Lifelog, and a Nokia research project that tracked the behavior of a group of cell phone users living near Lake Geneva in Switzerland between 2009 and 2011.

They found that people constantly face trade-offs between the curiosity that drives us to check out new places and the laziness and comfort that keeps us going back to our regular haunts. As a result, the number of locations we tend to visit stays relatively steady. People “continually explore new places yet they are loyal to a limited number of familiar ones,” the authors write.

Though that number may sound a little low to anyone with wanderlust, it makes sense. People don’t have infinite time or resources. Even the number of friends we’re capable of keeping up with is rather limited—anthropologist Robin Dunbar famously hypothesizes that humans can only sustain around 150 friendships at a time, and only five of those friends will be truly close ones. And if that’s our upper limit for connections we can technically maintain without ever leaving our computers, it makes sense that we would be able to sustain even fewer connections to places, which by nature require some amount of travel. If you find a new restaurant and become a regular, it’s probably at the expense of another restaurant you used to visit all the time.

However, the study found that the number of places you frequent can’t necessarily be explained only by the amount of free time you have. The researchers argue that “the fixed capacity is an inherent property of human behavior.” The 25-place rule held even if they adjusted for the time people spent at each location. They also found that the more social a person was, the more places they visited.

The researchers hope to continue their work by looking at connections between mobility and Dunbar’s work on social ties, figuring out how exactly your social life plays into how you move around the world.

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Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
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Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

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