Status Report

Photo: Escondida Copper Mine in the Atacama Desert As Seen From Orbit

By SpaceRef Editor
February 12, 2011
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One of the world’s leading copper mines, Escondida, in the Atacama Desert of Chile, is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 22 crew member on the International Space Station. The copper mining industry is a major part of the Chilean economy. The mine is located 170 kilometers southeast of Chile’s port city of Antofagasta, in the hyper arid northern Atacama Desert at an elevation of 3,050 meters (approximately 10,000 feet) above sea level.

Escondida produces mainly copper concentrates; assisted by gravity, the concentrates are piped as slurry down to the smaller port of Coloso just south of Antofagasta where they are dewatered for shipping. The photograph features a large light tan and gray waste or “spoil” materials impoundment area (center) of the mine complex. The copper-bearing waste, which is a large proportion of the material excavated from open pits to the north (not in frame), is poured into the impoundment area as a liquid (green region at photo’s center), and dries to the lighter-toned spoil seen in the image. The spoil is held behind a retaining dam, just a little more than one kilometer in length, visible as a straight line at lower left. “Escondida” means “hidden” in Spanish, and refers to the fact that the copper ore body was buried beneath hundreds of meters of barren rock and had to be located by a laborious drilling program following a geologic trend established from other copper occurrences. SS022-E-008282 (9 Dec. 2009) — high res (0.9 M) low res (64 K)

SpaceRef staff editor.