Null Island is a fictitious island where longitude and equator meet

I’ve got a list The data points are geocoded, but due to an error or omission, none of them are assigned a location. It may still appear on the map. If so, look for the pin to drop in a very specific place in international waters off the Gulf of Guinea: Nol Island.

Consider here the Gulf of Guinea, which is part of the South Atlantic Ocean, as the armpit of Africa. It is the body of water off the coast where West Africa curves south to become Central Africa. The bay is located in the middle of the standard world map, and this is no coincidence. It is the meeting point of the two base lines of geodetic measurement, the prime meridian and the equator. Or, expressed in latitude and longitude: 0°N, 0°E.

You guessed it: This is Null Island, the perfect anchoring place for non-geolocated data. But don’t rent a boat on the coast of Ghana or Sao Tome Island, two of the closest dry areas. After traversing about 400 miles (650 km) of open water, you’ll find more of the same on arrival. Because Null Island, as you call it, is not an island.

If you try to visit Nol Island, all you will see is the water in the Gulf of Guinea. Pascal Gerrit / Scientific

Null Island is just the colloquial name for the intersection of these two main trails. In mathematics, and therefore also in geodesy, a straight line (or great circle) is the longest possible line drawn around a sphere, thus dividing it into two exactly equal halves, or hemispheres.

The equator, which is equidistant from the poles, gives us the northern and southern hemispheres. The Greenwich meridian, which divides the world into the eastern and western hemispheres, is more arbitrary. Its status as the world’s prime meridian was not established until 1884, at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, DC. The French abstained from the final vote; They campaigned for Paris longitude.

So 1884 is year zero with respect to the point at zero north, zero east. Due to its remoteness, the site remained culturally insignificant until 2011, when it appeared on Natural Earth’s public domain map data set as “Null Island”.

The concept of Null Island has inspired people to create fantasy maps and flags.
The concept of Null Island has inspired people to create fantasy maps and flags. Aaron Bariki/CC BY 2.0

This naming started a great process: it made something happen unavailable in something imaginary, which is not quite the same thing. Suddenly, Nol Island was being mapped, flags were being designed, and fake dramas were being conjured up.

I squint, and you can almost see the island now. A small tropical purgatory, far from anywhere of interest, home to countless corrupted and incomplete data points, stranded until repaired or erased. The weather is always damp, and there is never a ship in sight.

An entire island has been given over to the world’s unfettered data. The idea almost makes you wish Null Island was real. But hey, there is actually something other than nothing on Null Island.

It's like a puzzle: the soul at zero north, zero east is moored on a non-existent island.
It’s like a puzzle: the soul at zero north, zero east is moored on a non-existent island. NOAA National Data Buoy Center

In 1997, the United States, France and Brazil installed a group of 17 weather and sea monitoring buoys in the South Atlantic Ocean, called the Pirata System. One of these ships is anchored to the bottom of the sea (about 16,000 feet or 5 kilometers deep) at exactly 0 degrees north, 0 degrees east latitude. This is station 13010 – also known as “Soul Buoy” – which measures air and water temperature, wind speed and direction, and other variables at zero and zero points.

All 17 floats, each named after a different musical genre, are checked annually, as the floats attract fish, and therefore also fishing boats, whose visits can cause damage to the equipment or the float itself.

It seems that, as in places that do not exist, Null Island is more solid than most places.

This article originally appeared on Big thoughtHome to the brightest minds and biggest ideas of all time. Sign up for the Big Think newsletter.

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