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Posted by on Jun 5, 2020 in TellMeWhy |

Why Is Atacama Desert Compared to the Martian Planet?

Why Is Atacama Desert Compared to the Martian Planet?

Atacama Desert is the world’s oldest and driest non-polar desert. It stretches 600-700 miles (1,000-1,100 km) through the South American nation of Chile.

Experts say the inner core of the Atacama has been hyper-arid for at least 15 million years. The region has a very dry climate.

Despite its general lack of rainfall, the Atacama is cooler than most deserts. Its average temperature is 66°F (19°C). This makes it a somewhat more comfortable home than you might expect.

The desert has even served as an extraterrestrial setting in movies. But its similarity to the Martian surface isn’t only useful for great Hollywood shots. Scientists believe studying this desert can help them learn what life could look like on Mars.

Despite its dry climate, the Atacama Desert is home to some organisms. The inner core hosts only microbial life. Experts hope that studying these creatures can give them a look into how life might exist on other planets.

Outside of the inner core, you’ll find scorpions, desert wasps, and butterflies in the Atacama Desert. Grey foxes are also known to live there.

In fact, the Atacama Desert has been inhabited for many years. Over one million people currently live and work in the Atacama Desert.

Places like the Atacama, where life struggles to get by, are called extreme environments. The Atacameño people were the first known to dwell there. Today, people living in this desert grow olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Many also herd alpacas.

Visitors to the Atacama Desert are often struck by its geological features. Its inner core is made up of many large playas and salt deposits. There’s also a long strip of land called the Nitrate Belt.

People have mined nitrate minerals there for many years. Many people also visit Rainbow Valley. There, mineral deposits give the sand green, pink, yellow, and blue hues.

The Atacama is also home to one of the world’s best spots for watching the night sky. The desert’s plateau has an elevation of 16,570 feet (5,050 meters) and up to 330 cloud-free nights per year.

There, you’ll find a group of 66 telescopes. They’re used by international science organizations to look deep into the cosmos. There’s a lot to admire about the world’s driest desert!

Content for this question contributed by Derek Krout, resident of York, York County, Pennsylvania, USA