What is Point Nemo?

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Point Nemo is a pole of inaccessibility that marks the furthest location from the ocean to the nearest coastline.  Located in the South Pacific Ocean, this location is known as the oceanic pole of inaccessibility.

Where Does the Name Point Nemo Come From?

The name Point Nemo originates from Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo who roams the oceans in his submarine in the novel ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’.  Nemo in Latin means “no one”.  

Where is Point Nemo Found?

Point Nemo can be found at the coordinates 48°52.6′S 123°23.6′W (in decimal degrees: -48.876667-123.393333).  

Point Nemo is 2,688 km (1,670 mi) from the closest coastline.  The closest lands are:  Ducie Island (part of the Pitcairn Islands) in the north, Motu Nui (part of the Easter Islands) in the northeast, and Maher Island (near the larger Siple Island, off the coast of Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica) to the south.

The red star makes the location of Point Nemo.
The red star marks the location of Point Nemo.

The Closest Humans are Sometimes Found on the International Space Station

Point Nemo is so far from any land-based human settlements that the International Space Station, which orbits an average of 400 km (248 miles) above the surface of the Earth, is the closest place with humans when it passes overhead.

Calculating Point Nemo

The location of Point Nemo was first calculated in 1992 by Hrvoje Lukatela, a Croatian-Canadian geodetic engineer. Here is a write-up explaining in brief how Luktela calculated the ocean pole of inaccessibility as well as an interview with some background history about calculating the location of Point Nemo.

Spacecraft Cemetery is Located at Point Nemo

Ever wonder what happens to satellites and other space debris that make it back to Earth? Many burn up upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, but the debris that remains has to go somewhere.

This place is called the spacecraft cemetery, also known as the South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area. Roughly at the location of Point Nemo, this place is 2,700 miles from the nearest landmass, Antarctica, and is free of islands and sees very little human activity.

The spacecraft cemetery is home to spacecraft, freighters, satellites, and space stations that have been retired from their jobs in space. At this point, the organizations and governments in charge of those galactic objects have two options; one is to use the remaining fuel in the object to send it further into space, and the other option is to use the fuel to send it crashing back to Earth.

Some retired space equipment can be sent out into graveyard orbit, which is about 22,400 miles above the Earth and 200 miles away from any other active satellites. This graveyard orbit option is chosen to keep space debris out of the way of active equipment flying in Earth’s atmosphere. Sending objects back down to Earth can leave a massive debris field, but as objects burn through Earth’s atmosphere this can also mean that most of their bulk is burned up upon re-entry.

Map showing the location of the spacecraft cemetery. Source: NASA.
Map showing the location of the spacecraft cemetery. Source: NASA.

The spacecraft cemetery has about 161 objects scattered about the sea floor, including the Russian Mir space station. These spacecraft are spread out over the extent of the South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area, which reaches 3,000 kilometers north to south and 5,000 kilometers from east to west. Governments and space agencies like NASA work to direct space objects into this area, as it is less likely to have any human interference or cause much damage.

Whether we dispose of our space objects in the bottom of the sea or high out in space, experts agree that someone will have to deal with these pieces of space equipment eventually. In space these objects could crash into each other, affecting live satellites or space stations, while the bottom of the ocean remains a precious ecosystem we need to take care of. High above the spacecraft cemetery, more live satellites continue to fly.

References

Where do old satellites go when they die? NASA

There’s a Spacecraft Cemetery in the Pacific, Smithsonian

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