Columbus set sail from Spain in three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

Painting by N.C. Wyeth, courtesy National Geographic

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  • On August 3, 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus started his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. With a crew of 90 men and three ships—the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria—he left from Palos de la Frontera, Spain. Columbus reasoned that since the world is round, he could sail west to reach “the east” (the lucrative lands of India and China). That reasoning was actually sound, but the Earth is much larger than Columbus thought—large enough for him to run into two enormous continents (the “New World” of the Americas) mostly unknown to Europeans.

    Columbus made it to what is now the Bahamas in 61 days. He initially thought his plan was successful and the ships had reached India. In fact, he called the indigenous people “Indians,” an inaccurate name that unfortunately stuck.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    continent Noun

    one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: continent
    Earth Noun

    our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Earth
    enormous Adjective

    very large.

    explorer Noun

    person who studies unknown areas.

    inaccurate Adjective


    indigenous Adjective

    characteristic to or of a specific place.

    Encyclopedic Entry: indigenous
    lucrative Adjective

    profitable or money-making.

    voyage Noun

    long journey or trip.