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Exploration is the act of searching for the purpose of discovery of information or resources. Exploration occurs in all non-sessile animal species, including humans. In human history, its most dramatic rise is arguably seen during the Age of Discovery when European explorers sailed and charted much of the rest of the world, largely in a pursuit of material wealth. Since then, major explorations after the Age of Discovery have occurred for reasons more aimed at information discovery.
In scientific research, exploration is one of three purposes of empirical research (the other two being description and explanation). The term is also commonly used metaphorically. For example, an individual may speak of exploring the internet, sexuality, etc.
The Phoenicians (1550 BCE–300 BCE) traded throughout the Mediterranean Sea and Asia Minor though many of their routes are still unknown today. The presence of tin in some Phoenician artifacts suggests that they may have traveled to Britain. Some scientists speculate that they voyaged all the way to Central America, although this is disputed. According to Virgil's Aeneid and other ancient sources, the legendary Queen Dido was a Phoenician from Asia Minor who sailed to North Africa and founded the city of Carthage.
The Greek explorer from Marseille, Pytheas (380 – c. 310 BC) was the first to circumnavigate Great Britain, explore Germany, and reach Thule (most commonly thought to be the Shetland Islands or Iceland).
During the 2nd and 3rd century BC, the Qin and Han Dynasties explored much of the Eastern Northern Hemisphere. For example, the court sorcerer Xu Fu (b. 255 BC), who led two voyages to the Eastern Seas in 219 BC and 210 BC; and Zhang Qian, imperial envoy to Central Asia, who helped establish the Silk Road.
From about 800 Ad to 1040 AD, the Vikings explored Europe and much of the Western Northern Hemisphere via rivers and oceans. For example, it is known that the Norwegian Viking explorer, Erik the Red (950–1003) sailed to and settled in Greenland after being cast out from Iceland, while the Icelandic explorer Leif Ericson (980–1020) is believed to be the first European to land in North America.
The Chinese explorer, Wang Dayuan (fl. 1311–1350) made two major trips by ship to the Indian Ocean. During 1328–1333, he sailed along the South China Sea and visited many places in Southeast Asia and reached as far as South Asia, landing in Sri Lanka and India. Then in 1334–1339, he visited North Africa and East Africa. Later, the Chinese admiral Zheng He (1371–1433) made seven voyages to Arabia, East Africa, India, Indonesia and Thailand.
The Age of Discovery, also known as the Age of Exploration, was a period starting in the early 15th century and continuing to the 17th century during which Europeans explored Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania. The most important explorers include: Afanasy Nikitin (? – 1472), a traveler and merchant who was one of the first Europeans to travel to and document his visit to India; Bartolomeu Dias (c. 1450–1500), who was the first European to reach the Cape of Good Hope; Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), who led a Spanish expedition across the Atlantic and discovered America; Vasco da Gama (1460-1524), a navigator who made the first trip from Europe to India and back by the Cape of Good Hope; Vasco Núñez de Balboa (c. 1475–1519), who became the first European to view the Pacific ocean from American shores after crossing the Isthmus of Panama; Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521) and Juan Sebastian Elcano (1476-1526), who together completed the first global circumnavigation; Jacques Cartier (1491–1557), who drew the first maps of what is now part of central and maritime Canada; Francisco de Orellana (1511–1546), who was the first European to navigate the length of the Amazon River; Willem Janszoon (1570-1630), who made the first European landing in Australia; and Abel Tasman (1603-1659), who discovered Tasmania and New Zealand.
Humanity is continuing to follow the impulse to explore, moving beyond Earth. Space exploration started in the 20th century with the invention of Rockets. This has given humans the opportunity to travel to the Moon, and to send robotic explorers to other Planets.
Humans have developed specialized tools and strategies to explore specific areas of the Earth, including the arctic, caves, deserts, oceans, and urban environments; and even Earth's moon. With robotic machines, humans have also explored many parts of the heliosphere, and through measurements, beyond the Solar System and beyond the Milky Way as part of an ongoing global Space exploration initiative.
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