Where do you go to get away from it all? When the stress of everyday life pushes you to search for the most remote point on Earth, you might be surprised to learn there are actually a few to choose from.
But if you have decent sea legs, nothing beats the furthest point from land, also known as the “oceanic pole of inaccessibility”.
Since its official title is a bit of a mouthful, it has been nicknamed Point Nemo, after author Jules Verne’s famous seafaring anti-hero Captain Nemo. The name means “no-one” in Latin which is fitting for a place so rarely visited by man.
Point Nemo is located over 1,000 miles (1,600km) equidistantly from the coasts of three far-flung islands. Ducie Island (one of the Pitcairn islands) is to the north, Motu Nui (of the Easter Island chain) is to the north-east and Maher Island (off the coast of Antarctica) is to the south.
It is a rather peculiar place.
Experts had long discussed the geographical conundrum of finding the middle of the ocean, but it took modern technology to provide a full solution. The oceanic pole of inaccessibility was officially discovered in 1992 by survey engineer Hrvoje Lukatela.
Instead of launching an expedition, Lukatela stayed on dry land and calculated the point’s location using specialist computer software. Rather than simply putting a pin in a flat projection of the Earth, the software incorporated the planet’s ellipsoid shape for maximum accuracy.
It seems unlikely that the point will move significantly within the foreseeable future.
“The location of three equilateral points is quite unique, and there are no other points on the Earth’s surface that could conceivably replace any one of those,” says Lukatela. It is possible that better measurements, or coastal erosion, would shift the location of Point Nemo, “but only in the order of metres”.
Point Nemo is so far from land, the nearest humans are often astronauts. The International Space Station orbits the Earth at a maximum of 258 miles (416km). Meanwhile the nearest inhabited landmass to Point Nemo is over 1,670 miles (2,700km) away.
In fact the whole region around Point Nemo is well known to space agencies.
The area is officially known to space agencies as the “South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area”. In particular, the Russian, European and Japanese space agencies have long used it as a dumping ground, because it is the point on the planet with the fewest human inhabitants and the quietest shipping routes.
Over a hundred decommissioned spacecraft are thought to now occupy this “spacecraft cemetery”, from satellites and cargo ships to the defunct space station Mir.
IN 1997, OCEANOGRAPHERS RECORDED A MYSTERIOUS NOISE LESS THAN 1,240 MILES (2,000KM) EAST OF POINT NEMO
Rather than single monuments to the history of space travel, the remains are spread across the ocean floor in bits, says space archaeologist Alice Gorman of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.
“Spacecraft do not survive atmospheric re-entry whole,” says Gorman. “Most of them burn up in the fierce heat. The most common components to survive are fuel tanks and pressure vehicles, which are part of the fuel system. These are generally made of titanium alloys or stainless steel, often encased in complex carbon fibres, which are resistant to high temperatures.”
While smaller fragments burn up in the atmosphere, leaving nothing but an impressive light show, Gorman says the larger parts of the 143-tonne Mir were reputed to have washed up on Fijian beaches, while the rest sank to the ocean depths.
“Like shipwrecks, they create habitats that will be colonised by anything and everything that lives at that depth,” says Gorman. “Unless there is residual fuel that leaks out, there should not be a hazard to aquatic life.”
Rumors have long swirled about what might live at Point Nemo.