Asia is the largest continent in the world, composed of 50 separate countries and encompassing a total of 17,139,000 square miles. The continent is home to about 3.3 billion people, which is nearly 60 percent of the world's population. It features a wide range of geographical categories and natural features.
Asia is divided into six regions, each with its own political, geographic and cultural distinctions. The southern regions consist of Southwest Asia, which includes Iran, Turkey and the nations of the fertile crescent; South Asia, which includes Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent; and Southeast Asia, which includes the Southeastern peninsula and the Malay Archipelago. Other regions of Asia consist of East Asia, which includes China, Korea and Japan; Russian Asia, which includes Siberia and the Russian Far East; and Central Asia, which is composed of the former satellite republics of the Soviet Union.
Some of the major religions of Asia include Hinduism, several types of Buddhism, Islam, and to a lesser degree, Catholicism. Other religions are a variety of local indigenous religious practices, such as Shinto in Japan and Confucianism in China.
Many of the world's earliest civilizations were located in Asia, including the Babylonian and Persian empires, as well as ancient India and China. In 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gama reached India by sea, initiating the era of European exploration and colonialization of Asia.