The continents were fit together in what is called the Pangaea configuration some 200 to 270 million years ago. They separated gradually because of the movement of the Earth's tectonic plates. As of 2014, they are expected to form another such configuration in 250 million years.
Pangaea was named by meteorologist Alfred Wegener in 1912. The term derives from the Greek for "all lands." Wegener first hypothesized that the present seven continents were once joined as a super-continent. He observed that the borders of continents matched curiously, almost in the manner of an enormous jigsaw puzzle.
Pangaea is only the most recent of Earth's super-continents. The movement of Earth's tectonic plates has caused more than one sequence of continents to coalesce and drift apart. In Pangaea's time, it covered nearly one third of the Earth's surface and was surrounded by Panthalassa, one giant ocean. Pangaea existed during the Permian and Triassic geological time periods, which were times of great change. The Permian mass extinction, which wiped out an estimated 96 percent species about 248 million years ago, occurred during this time.