I was listening to BBC news radio last night - 18th day of May 2017 and I heard this guest who was campaigning for people to stop dumping trash in the oceans.

Probably not the same very words but the meaning is the same:

"... some oceans are so remote such that if you are standing there the closest person to you is in the space station"

I thought to myself, hmm another flat earth troll who needs an atlas but I realized I couldn't even estimate the distance from the oceanic pole of inaccessibility at 46°17′N 86°40′E (2700km from land) to the ISS http://iss.astroviewer.net/

How true is this claim?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 17:43

3 Answers 3


It is a common misconception that something in (Low Earth) orbit (like the ISS) is far away. This is not the case -- orbit is more about going sideways really fast than it is about "being up". (xkcd -- Orbital Speed)

The ISS has perigee at 402 km and apogee at 409 km ([1]). Unless you're further north / south than 51 degrees (The ISS' orbital inclination), at some point the ISS will be directly overhead, i.e. a bit over 400 km away from you.

Compared to that, the oceanic pole of inaccessibility...

...lies in the South Pacific Ocean, 2,688 km (1,670 mi) from the nearest lands. ([2]).

So, allowing for some ship being closer while the ISS is on the other side of the earth, at least some of the time the claim is true, and quite possibly by a comfortable margin.

You can possibly find places on land where the ISS crew is closer to you than the next person on earth...

  • 3
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 23:17
  • I must quibble with the last point--the places on land that are so remote that the nearest human might be farther than the ISS orbital altitude are at very high latitude--the ISS won't fly over them. Commented May 2, 2022 at 23:45
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    @LorenPechtel Are you sure? Sahara, Gobi, and central Australia sound like good candidates to me...
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 3, 2022 at 5:40
  • Also from xkcd: An instructive mileage sign Commented May 3, 2022 at 20:40
  • @DevSolar 400 miles is pretty far even in those areas. Central Australia is Alice Springs. Admittedly it's been 40 years since I was there but there certainly were people back then. Commented May 5, 2022 at 1:59

A picture gives a sense of proportion. To the Earth, a rock diameter 13000km, clings a wisp of atmosphere. The troposphere, where everyone has ever breathed, is thinner than 20km. Above, space. The International Space Station orbits at about 400 km.

black photo with thin blue arc of the atmosphere

THE THIN BLUE LINE: Earth’s thin atmosphere is all that stands between life on Earth and the cold, dark void of space. Our planet's atmosphere has no clearly defined upper boundary but gradually thins out into space. The layers of the atmosphere have different characteristics, such as protective ozone in the stratosphere, and weather in the lowermost layer. The setting Sun is also featured in this image, which was photographed by the crew of the International Space Station in 2008.

Source: NASA


No, this is just wrong. Look for example at this picture in this link where they mapped some the ships which sent some AISat (Automatic Identification) signal (and these are not all ships, airplanes, or islands): Satellit ortet 52.000 Schiffe ("Satellite locates 52,000 ships")

Can you find a circle with a 400km radius without any dots in it between 51 degree north and south? I guess that is impossible!

  • 24
    Yes, actually, I can. West Southwest of Australia. 800 km isn't actually all that much on the scale of the oceans. I sized Google maps to about the same scale and used the measurement tool to confirm that some of the holes North of 51 deg South are indeed greater than 800 km in diameter. Nevertheless, this map is an interesting find.
    – reirab
    Commented May 19, 2017 at 21:45
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    How many of those ships without transponders operate on the high seas in sparse areas of the Southern Indian Ocean, though? Aircraft flights there are quite rare. There's just not much reason to fly there. Inhabited islands in the Southern Indian Ocean are also very few and far between (much farther than 800 km.) Right now, for example, FlightRadar24 shows exactly 1 flight over the entire Southern part of the Indian Ocean.
    – reirab
    Commented May 19, 2017 at 22:01
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    There seems to be a worldwide allergy to sensible map projections, but the far south Atlantic and far south Indian Ocean meet your criteria. (According to the map, the north Atlantic and the South China Sea do as well, but I'm certain those are false-positives.)
    – Mark
    Commented May 19, 2017 at 22:44
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    @reirab Note that the image caption text (in German!) says that a few regions are not yet covered by this helix antenna, and that is why we do not see any dots in e.g. the German Bight where there are in reality a very large number of ships at any time. So it is clear that the image does not show all ships, for various reasons. So it is not "obvious" that you can stand somewhere within the 51st latitudes and have no ships or settlements within 400 km from you. So, 400 km is not much compared to the size of the oceans, but there are many ships! Commented May 22, 2017 at 8:04
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    @JanDvorak However, since it is at latitudes​ way over 51 degrees North, it does not qualify in the strict version of the question. The ISS will never come near the Norwegian Sea. Commented May 22, 2017 at 15:46

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