Chile’s Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth

The Atacama Desert, located in northern Chile, stands out as one of the driest regions globally, with some areas experiencing zero rainfall throughout recorded history. Positioned between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, its unique geography contributes to its extreme aridity. Famous features within the desert include the Atacama Salt Flat and dry valleys like Valle de la Luna and Valle de Marte, resembling Martian landscapes.

Despite its harsh conditions, the Atacama supports diverse wildlife and plant species adapted to the arid environment. Along the coast, a dense marine fog, called camanchaca, provides minimal moisture for certain plants and animals. The Salar de Atacama salt flat hosts unique microorganisms, sustaining flamingos in the summer.

The desert’s history includes exploitation of natural resources, particularly nitrate deposits, leading to conflicts between Chile and Bolivia. Despite scars from mining, the region remains inhabited, with over a million people calling it home.

Scientific interest in the Atacama persists due to its extreme conditions, attracting researchers worldwide. It serves as an ideal location for studying life in harsh environments and observing the night sky, facilitated by its minimal light pollution and precipitation. Notable astronomical installations, such as the Atacama Large Millimeter Array and the Extremely Large Telescope, underscore its significance in scientific exploration.

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