There exists a geographic point where two of the largest countries in the world are separated by less than three miles.
Russia (ranked as the largest country in the world at 6,601,670 square miles) and the United States (ranked as the fourth largest country in the world at 3,677,649 square miles) are only separated by a short distance but time wise are 21 hours apart.
How close is the United States to Russia?
Alaska is the U.S. state that is closest to Russia.
The closest geographic point between the borders of the United States and Russia lies in the Bering Strait located in the Pacific Ocean.
The Chukchi Sea lies to the north and the Bering Sea to the south.
Known as the Diomede Islands, this pair of islands is located between the coast of Alaska, United States, and midland Siberia which is part of Russia. The Chukchi Sea lies to the north and the Bering Sea to the south.
The two islands are known as Little Diomede and Big Diomede, are separated by the International Date Line (IDL) which is also an international boundary. Little Diomede belonging to the United States and Big Diomede belonging to Russia.
A mere 2.4 miles (3.8 kilometers) separates the two islands.
The larger island is known as Big Diomedes is the easternmost point in Russia. The smaller island is known as Little Diomedes and is within the United States’ border.
Little Diomedes is 0.6 kilometers (0.4 mi) from the International Date Line. Big Diomedes is 1.3 kilometers (0.81 mi) west of the IDL.
This area is the closest country to the United States without sharing a border. Big Diomedes in Russia is only 40 kilometers (25 miles) from mainland Alaska.
Separated by 21 Hours During Standard Time
Since the IDL separates the two islands, they are also referred to as Tomorrow Island and Yesterday Isle. Tomorrow Island (Big Diomedes) is 21 hours ahead of Yesterday Isle (Little Diomedes) during standard time although some people erroneously think these two islands are separated by 23 hours.
The reason for the 21-hour time difference is because Little Diomede is in the same timezone as mainland Alaska which is UTC (coordinated universal time) minus 9 hrs (although during daylight saving time the time offset of Alaska is eight hours). Big Diomede is in the Kamchatka time zone which is UTC+12. So, during standard time, this would be -9 – 12 which equals to a 21-hour difference.
Who were the Diomede Islands Named After?
The islands were named after the Greek saint Diomede by Danish-Russian navigator Vitus Bering who sighted the islands on August 16, 1728, the feast day of the saint.
Political Separation of the Diomede Islands
The political separation occurred when the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 and a new border was drawn between the two islands. During the Cold War, the section of the Bering Straight that passes between the two islands was nicknamed the “Ice Curtain”.
About 52 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the islands have a mild temperature during the summer months, averaging about 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. During the winter, temperatures dip below freezing, averaging 6 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
During the winter months, an ice bridge spans the two islands although travel between the two is not allowed. The ice retreats northward by the summer and the waters during the summer are completely ice free.
Based on the 2010 US Census, about 115 Inupiat people live on the western shore of Little Diomedes in the village of Diomedes (also known as Iŋaliq.). The island is known for its rugged and mountainous terrain, as well as its unique location at the edge of the Arctic Ocean.
Big Diomedes has no permanent residents but the island houses a Russian weather station. Big Diomedes is the easternmost point in Russia. The island is also known for its rugged terrain and extreme climate, with harsh winds and freezing temperatures year-round.
This article was originally written on December 12, 2016 and has since been updated.