February 01, 2015
Photographer: Martin Dietzel
The photo above shows the barren but beautiful landscape of the Atacama Desert in Chile, captured in morning light from the Paranal Observatory. The Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth. In a few spots precipitation hasn't fallen in years, even though it lies only about 100 mi (160 km) from the largest body of water on the planet, the Pacific Ocean. A ridge of coastal mountains to the west effectively blocks moisture from moving inland off the Pacific. To the east, the Andes Mountains prevent precipitation coming from the Atlantic Ocean from reaching the Atacama. Mineral compounds in soils, especially copper, are responsible for the reddish hues. Note that the wiggly, white line near the center of the photo is a road crossing the desert. Photo taken on November 14, 2010.