Point Nemo | Where the nearest humans are astronauts

Point Nemo, or the oceanic pole of inaccessibility, is the place in the world where you are furthest from land. There’s really nothing there except plastic particles and old satellites at the bottom of the sea. In fact, the closest humans are astronauts living on the International Space Station.

point nemo
Point Nemo. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The location was first calculated in 1992 by a Croatian survey engineer called Hrvoje Lukatela, who pinpointed the spot 1,670 miles (2,688 kilometers) from the nearest land. The exact coordinates are 48°52.6′S 123°23.6′W.

It is named after Captain Nemo, the mysterious, misanthropic, deep sea-dwelling character from Jules Verne’s classic sci-fi novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The name Nemo itself came from the Latin word for ‘nobody’.

Read More: The island home to the most isolated society in the world

Interestingly, Point Nemo is equidistantly close to (or far from) three different islands. To the north there is Ducie Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands; to the south, Maher Island, part of Antarctica, is the closest land; and 1,670 miles northeast of Point Nemo you will find Motu Nui, one of the Easter Islands, and the closest humans on land. 

Yet when the International Space Station passes overhead, the astronauts on board are far, far closer to Point Nemo than Motu Nui. The site and the space station are just under 250 miles (or 400 kilometers) at their closest point.

spacecraft cemetery international space station
The International Space Station. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

Due to its isolation, Point Nemo and the surrounding seas are also used for spacecrafts coming back to Earth. It is part of an area known as “spacecraft cemetery”, with the bottom of the ocean littered with hundreds of old satellites and space stations that have fallen there upon re-entry to Earth. In fact, when the International Space Station descends as planned in 2031, it, too, will head to the depths of Point Nemo. 

Places like Point Nemo are not just chosen for their isolation from inhabited land, but also that it is out of the way of maritime traffic, and the fact that there is very little natural life of any variety there. It is located within a current known as the South Pacific Gyre, which is known to steer away waters rich in nutrients, resulting in one of the most lifeless areas of the ocean. 
Sadly, however, in recent years, the sea at Point Nemo has become increasingly populated with plastic. In 2018, boats competing in the Volvo Ocean Race recorded 26 microplastic particles per cubic meter in samples collected while passing through the location. It’s not as polluted as other parts of the sea, but the fact plastics have drifted even to the most remote point on the planet highlights the extent of its damage to our oceans.

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