The Atacama Desert As Seen From Orbit

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
March 12, 2023
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The Atacama Desert As Seen From Orbit
Atacama Region, Chile (27.6°S 70.5°W), 09 Mar 2023

Atacama Region, Chile (27.6°S 70.5°W), 09 Mar 2023

The Atacama Desert is a desert plateau in South America covering a 1,600 km (990 mi) strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes Mountains.

The Atacama Desert is the driest nonpolar desert in the world, and the second driest overall, just behind some very specific spots within the McMurdo Dry Valleys as well as the only hot true desert to receive less precipitation than the polar deserts, and the largest fog desert in the world. Both regions have been used as experimentation sites on Earth for Mars expedition simulations.

The desert owes its extreme aridity to a constant temperature inversion due to the cool north-flowing Humboldt ocean current and to the presence of the strong Pacific anticyclone.

The most arid region of the Atacama Desert is situated between two mountain chains (the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range) of sufficient height to prevent moisture advection from either the Pacific or the Atlantic Ocean, a two-sided rain shadow.

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SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.