Point Nemo
Point Nemo's location in the South PacificGoogle Earth via Screengrab

Point Nemo, or "ocean point of inaccessibility," is a region in the South Pacific that is the loneliest place on the planet. It is used as a graveyard for controlled re-entries and a place where space junk can be dropped safely.

Point Nemo, named after the submarine captain in Jules Verne's classic science fiction novel 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, is about 2,688 kilometers from the nearest land – Pitcairn Islands – which lies to the north of this point.

Also, Motu Nui — one of the Easter Islands — lies to the northeast and Maher Island, part of Antarctica, to the south, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This is the point that most controlled re-entries are directed toward, reported Phys.org, and one that the falling Chinese space station the Tiangong-1 is most likely to miss. The report points out that the space station was originally supposed to crash into Point Nemo, but that is no longer likely as the satellite has not been under any control for over a year now and is set to crash in the next few days.

The exact spot where the Tiangong-1 will disintegrate is yet to be known, but the Chinese have promised a great show, akin to a meteor shower. Reports published early last week noted that the spread of debris, its "footprint" as such, will be about 18 km high, 70 km wide, and will stretch out to about 2,000 km in length. It will crash between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south latitudes.

As to why Point Nemo was chosen as the place where massive titanium tanks, rocket engines, and other large space debris go to die, "Its most attractive feature for controlled re-entries is that nobody is living there," said Stijn Lemmens, a space debris expert at the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany.

The region is also safe to land all kinds of waste because there is also not much life in the water here.

"Coincidentally, it is also biologically not very diverse. So it gets used as a dumping ground — 'space graveyard' would be a more polite term — mainly for cargo spacecraft," he added.

Till now, about 250-300 spacecraft have been "buried" at Point Nemo, he explained. Most of the junk that re-enters the atmosphere burns up and what remains simply splashes into the sea, he said.

The largest hunk of space junk to ever be laid to rest there is the Russian MIR space lab, which touched down in 2001 — at the time of launch, it reportedly weighed over 120 tonnes.

"It is routinely used nowadays by the (Russian) Progress capsules, which go back-and-forth to the International Space Station (ISS)," said Lemmens.

The ISS, which is facing decommissioning by 2024, is also likely to be laid to rest at Point Nemo, noted the report. The ISS weighs about 420 tonnes as of now.