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Finding (Point) Nemo- The Lonely Coordinate

We always look for the unknown. Something about our hedonistic understanding of the self means no matter how much we know, we aren’t satisfied. Mankind can be particularly greedy when it comes to knowledge and when there is none, we create it. Overthinkers can probably understand that. This thirst for knowledge is generally marketed as our greatest asset-why are human beings superior to all other living forms on the planet? Oh, they’re inquisitive and curious, advancing science and learning the fundamentals behind the universe. Travellers and explorers have scoured the Earth, finding coordinates and landmarks geographers have termed ‘poles of inaccessibility’ for the simple reason that they should be inaccessible; chasing the answers to our origin, our potential future and the origin and future of everything else breathing on the planet.

Poles of inaccessibility are some of the most remote places on the planet, a definite advantage for researchers hoping to find evolutionary proof undisturbed by human activities. While this would make sense when one thinks about locations like Xinjiang in China, titled the ‘Continental pole of inaccessibility’, what could one possibly find out in the middle of the ocean?

(Proposed point of continental inaccessibility near the Kazakhstan border; the nearest settlement is 50km away)

Welcome to Point Nemo

Point Nemo is officially the farthest point from life-animal or human. Resting at the coordinate 48°52.6′S 123°23.6′W, Nemo is named after Jules Vernes’ famous submarine sailor from ‘twenty thousand leagues under the sea’. Coincidentally, the word ‘nemo’ in latin translates to ‘no one’, which is apt considering its designation as the ‘loneliest point on the planet’. A sailor at Point Nemo would be closer to the astronauts in the International Space Station (though actual interaction with them is unlikely) than they would be to any inhabitant on land. The closest island is the Ducie island which is at least 2700 kilometres away.

What would it feel like at Point Nemo?

Initially, perhaps, it might be a pleasurable experience (unless you’re seasick). Compared to the hustle and never ending noise of city life or even the relatively calmer town life, Point Nemo isn’t defined by a boundary as such, hence, it is equivalent to a random spot in the sea; one where the closest help is 15 days away if you’re lucky. That being said, the openness and never ending ocean coupled with the intense monotony of sea waves and breeze can eventually become terrifying. In such an isolated environment, we are also more likely to indulge in fantastical illusions and thoughts as there is no evidence to contradict it. The social support we receive both fuels our imaginations and stops it from being self destructive. So what happens if that is taken away?

Our enthusiasm to discover overshadows common facts and probabilities. This can be seen with the raging conspiracy theory of 1997, when scientists were convinced of the presence of a giant sea monster at Point Nemo. The Bloop, a low frequency but loud noise picked up by underwater sensors almost 5000 meters apart, seemed to originate at Nemo and its ‘organic’ nature convinced the brightest minds that this was an outlier to the selective evolutionary process. Extensive study was conducted in an effort to prove that this sound was the call of an ancient sea monster, much bigger than the blue whale. However, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) was able to confirm that the sound closely matched that of icequakes in Antarctica when viewed through a different software. This of course, raised environmental concerns but the theory of a new species was put to rest. Research on global warming and plastic consumption continues at this point, along with a specific interest in its location and the benefits of the same to the space industry.

The Ocean and the Universe

The cold vastness of space can, for an average person, be remarkably similar to the dark, unending ocean bed. Both remain unexplored and uncharted, allowing for risky, long term exposure to isolation. The International Space Station (ISS) is somewhat similar to Point Nemo, surrounded by endless horizons with its closest anchor being in another dimension, which is on earth. It is one of the most prominent international projects but as all long lasting things, it is predicted at one point to end. So how does this connect to Point Nemo?

When one thinks of space exploration, the most common understanding seems to be-an astronaut or a team boards a spaceship, goes to space, comes back home. However, there is a multitude of space debris, uninhabited satellites and spaceships orbiting the earth at any given moment which do not have anything to do with astronauts at all. Those inoperable by human hands or those in some kind of interface troubles have only one way to reach earth safely-through a coordinated crash. Without proper disposal, these objects are bound to be attracted by earth’s strong gravitational field and this, of course, results in dangerous meteorites or ‘shooting stars’- a typical armageddon scenario.

To prevent such a scenario, scientists around the globe direct failing satellites and the sorts to the ‘spacecraft cemetery’ which as you might have guessed, is at Point Nemo, or rather is Point Nemo. As of 2016, approximately 263 spacecrafts have ‘rested in pieces’ at this graveyard, including MIR, Russia’s first modular space station, having a mass greater than any other man made object sent into space. It crashed in 2001 after it went into orbit decay or spacecraft death and consequently remains Point Nemo’s most famous resident. That, however, can be changed.

The ISS has a mass almost four times greater than MIR and even a spot like Nemo cannot ensure that all debris resulting from what should be a very violent crash, will land in the Pacific ocean. Based on the complicated calculations to safely crash MIR, the ISS cannot re-enter earth for another six years.

Point Nemo, in a way, serves as a symbolic paradox. For many researchers, it is the beginning of knowledge; everything from oceanic currents to environmental awareness. At the same time, for astrologists, it acts as the end of one of the greatest scientific expeditions of humanity.

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