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Point Nemo: facts about the Earth's farthest point from land

Have you ever wondered where our space junk go?

Point Nemo: facts about the Earth's farthest point from land
Oceanic pole of inaccessibility Source: Wikimedia Commons

Point Nemo is the most remote place on Earth - the place farthest from land. 

It is located in the South Pacific Ocean and lies around 2,688 kilometers (1,670 miles) from the nearest land.

It is called “Point Nemo” because “nemo” means “no one” in Latin. It is also the name of Jules Verne’s fictional character Captain Nemo, who travels through the oceans in his submarine, Nautilus, in Verne’s science-fiction adventure novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas (1870) and The Mysterious Island (1875). 

Point Nemo is not only the middle of nowhere, it is also a spacecraft graveyard: the place where NASA and other space agencies crash their de-orbited satellites, space stations, and other decommissioned spacecraft. 

Facts about Point Nemo 

1. The oceanic pole of inaccessibility 

Point Nemo is also referred to as the oceanic pole of inaccessibility. 

This means that it is the place on the ocean that is furthest away from any land. A pole of inaccessibility refers to a place on Earth that is the most inaccessible to reach according to set criteria. On land, it often refers to the point that is farthest from the coastline.

Poles of inaccessibility include:

  • The Northern pole of inaccessibility is located in the Arctic Ocean pack ice. This lies at 85°48′N 176°9′W, about 626 miles (1,008 kilometers) from the nearest landmasses of Ellesmere Island (in Canada),  Henrietta Island (in the East Siberian Sea), and Arctic Cape (in the Russian High Arctic). 
  • The Southern pole of inaccessibility commonly refers to a location in a (former) Soviet Union research station in Antarctica, about 546 miles (878 kilometers) from the Terrestrial South Pole. 
  • The Continental poles of inaccessibility: a point in northwestern China (Eurasian pole) near the border with Kazakhstan; a point near the town of Obo in the Central African Republic 1,814 km (1,127 miles) from the coast (African pole); a point in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota (North American pole) about 11 km (7 miles) north of the town of Allen and 1,650 km (1,030 miles) from the nearest coastline; a point in near Arenapolis, Brazil (South American pole) 1,504 km (935 miles) from the nearest coastline; and two points near Papunya in Australia and 920 km (570 miles) from the nearest coastline.

2. Exact location of Point Nemo

The exact location of Point Nemo is calculated as 48°52.6′S 123°23.6′W or 49.0273°S 123.4345°W. That is 1,680.7 miles (2,704.8 km) from the nearest islands in the South Pacific Ocean: Ducie Island, an uninhabited atoll that is part of the Pitcairn Islands, to the north; Motu Nui, the largest of three islets near Easter Island, to the northeast; and Maher Island, off the coast of Antarctica’s unclaimed territory of Marie Byrd Land, to the south.  

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All of these islands are uninhabited. To find civilization, you’d have to go to Easter Island (Rapa Nui)  — one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, about 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers) to the east of Chile — or to New Zealand, about 2,500 miles (4,023 kilometers) away. 

motu nui
Motu Nui, Motu Iti and the sea stack of Motu Kao Kao. Source: kallerna/Wikimedia Commons

Because there are no airports at Point Nemo, this trip can only be made by boat, and it could take more than two weeks to complete. 

In the meantime, the nearest humans to Point Nemo are often the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), who, when they pass directly over Point Nemo, are just about 258 miles (415 kilometers) away — much closer than any other human on Earth at that point.

3. Who discovered Point Nemo?

The location of Point Nemo was first calculated in 1992 by Croatian-Canadian survey engineer Hrvoje Lukatela, based on the data from the “Digital Chart of the World” compiled by the US Defense Mapping Agency (this is now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency). Lukatela used computational software to give a numerical resolution of around 1mm.

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4. Point Nemo, a lifeless spot 

It is clear that there is no human life anywhere near Point Nemo. Well, there doesn’t seem to be much sea life either. Point Nemo’s location falls at the center of the Southern Pacific Gyre, a rotating ocean current that keeps nutrient-rich waters away from the area.

Gyres
Map of gyres. Source: NOAA

The huge distance from Point Nemo to land also implies that nutrient run-off from coastal waters does not reach the area easily. Marine creatures who would otherwise settle near Point Nemo simply have no food to thrive there. 

Researchers have only found bacteria and small crabs living in the volcanic vents of the seafloor around Point Nemo.

There is, however, pollution. In 2018, up to 26 microplastic particles per cubic meter were found in seawater samples collected near Point Nemo by passing vessels.

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5. The home of Cthulhu

Point Nemo’s location is coincidentally close to that of R’yleh, H.P Lovecraft’s fictional sunken city, where the entity Cthulhu is interred.

Lovecraft placed the city at 47°9′S 126°43′W in the South Pacific Ocean, very close to Point Nemo.

R'lyeh locations
R’yleh location by H.P Lovecraft and August Derleth, co-creator of the Cthulhu Mythos, in relation to Point Nemo. Source:  Nojhan/Wikimedia Commons

The fictional sunken city was first mentioned in The Call of Cthulhu (1928), a short story written 66 years before the calculation of Point Nemo.

6. The bloop

In 1997, researchers from America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) detected an ultra-low-frequency sound near Point Nemo that they couldn’t explain. They called it “the bloop.”

H. P. Lovecraft fans quickly associated the sound with Cthulhu. Even though there is not much biological activity near Point Nemo, some scientists hypothesized that it was actually the call of an unidentified marine animal. 

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In 2005, the sound was finally found to be produced by a non-tectonic ice quake from glacial movements in Antarctica.

Point Nemo as a spacecraft cemetery 

Space agencies have found that an extremely isolated location like Point Nemo is a safe “scuttling” site for satellites and spacecraft that are de-orbited to the Earth at the end of their useful lives. Using controlled landings, space agencies can deliberately splash down decommissioned spacecraft in this remote area without affecting people or maritime traffic in the process.

Reportedly, space agencies started using Point Nemo as a spaceship graveyard in the 1970s, before the area was even named “Point Nemo.” 

Many smaller retired spacecraft disintegrate and burn up as they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, but if they are too large to burn by themselves, then they are intentionally crashed at Point Nemo — an area that is beyond the legal jurisdiction of any country. The goal of de-orbiting is to keep space junk from colliding with functioning satellites or crewed spacecraft in low Earth orbit. Using Point Nemo also ensures that no people or objects will be hit by the de-orbited debris.

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space debris illustration
Space debris illustration. Source: Hopeful in NJ/Flickr

More than 263 spacecraft were sent to Point Nemo between 1971 and 2016, including the Russian space station Mir (1986-2001), six stations from Russia’s first space station program Salyut (1971-1986), and remnants of NASA’s Skylab space station (1973-1979). 

Other space debris in Point Nemo’s spacecraft cemetery includes craft belonging to the European Space Agency (ESA) and to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), roughly 140 Russian resupply vehicles, and a SpaceX rocket. The International Space Station (ISS) is expected to crash at Point Nemo upon its retirement in 2028-2030. 

russia mir space station
MIR space station. Source: Free Public Domain Illustrations by rawpixel/Wikimedia Commons

However, because the spacecraft break up as they impact, their remains can be scattered across as much as 995 miles of ocean.

It’s also important to note that space debris disposal at Point Nemo may also have an environmental impact. Although spacecraft are mostly constructed of non-toxic metals like stainless steel, titanium, or aluminum, some radioactive substances and hydrazine, a highly toxic rocket propellant, are believed to survive re-entry and may cause marine pollution at Point Nemo through chemical spillage.

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