Chile Travel Destination

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the driest place on planet Earth. It extends from just below the Chile/Peru border until 30° south, around 240 miles north of Santiago. The average rainfall is recorded to be .04 inches per year, which essentially means it never rains. Even the Sahara gets almost .8 inches while the Gobi Desert sees a whopping 7.6 inches per year. So what makes a desert a desert?

Generally, a desert is defined as a region that receives less than 10 inches of rain in a year, so we can be certain that Atacama measures up and that by definition, many of the deserts in the world probably don’t even compare to the dryness of this desolate region in Chile. So why would anyone want to go there? Well, for starters, it’s absolutely beautiful and its rare climate makes it one of the most unique landscapes in the world. Watching the sunset from the Valley of the Moon, standing on a giant sand dune, overlooking distant volcanoes and a surreal lunar landscape, Atacama is truly a necessary Chile travel destination.

Chile Travel Destination

Chile Travel Destination

Thought to be between 10 and 15 million years old, the Atacama Desert in addition to the title of driest desert in the world, it is also the oldest desert in the world. Scientists are very interested in Atacama in order to study how little water life needs to survive. In fact, a lot of what they are learning in their studies of Atacama is relating to questions about life on Mars, and other distant planets. While a field trip to Mars is far too expensive and farfetched for the time being, driving into the Atacama Desert is a practical and useful compromise.

There are two important characteristics to the climate on Mars. It is very dry, but also, it is very, very cold. This means that any existing water would be in the form of ice. Though Atacama is very dry from Earth’s perspective, it still doesn’t compare to the dryness of Mars today. What scientists believe however, is that at one time, Mars had water flowing on the surface, much the way Earth does today. They see evidence of stream beds, polar caps, and spectroscopic measurement, which is the study of the interaction between radiation and matter.

So scientists are studying the survival of life in the Atacama Desert in order to relate it to the possibilities of life having existed on Mars before it basically froze over. Common mold for example has the ability to survive on very little, sucking even the slightest bit of humidity from the air. Mold isn’t exactly as interesting as the image of alien life we like to conjure up in our heads but the point is mostly that it’s a start.

So far, they haven’t discovered much in Atacama. There is a large presence of nitrate, which accumulates on desert rocks over a long period of time in the desert. If there was bacteria and other life present, they’d be using up the nitrate, preventing it from accumulating. They have found some oxidizing soils and are focusing a lot of their attention on these. They will continue to use Atacama as an outdoor laboratory despite its weak relationship with conditions on Mars. There’s just no place else in the world that comes closer.

So, if you are interested in traveling to another planet, and you’re not an astronaut, you just might find some of what you are looking for in the Atacama Desert. It may be lacking in rainfall but it certainly isn’t lacking in beauty.

Comments are closed.