The Atacama Desert in northern Chile runs along part of South America’s central west coast and is considered one of the driest places on Earth. Being a “coastal desert,” the cold, upwelling waters in the Pacific Ocean inhibit rain from reaching the land. Instead, the winds that blow from the ocean bring fog.
Because of the Atacama plateau’s high altitude, low cloud cover and lack of light pollution, it’s one of the best places in the world to conduct astronomical observations and is home to two major observatories. Some areas of the desert have been compared to the planet Mars and have been used as a location for filming scenes set on the “Red Planet.”
In the lower right, the geometric shapes of large evaporation ponds dominate the Salar de Atacama—Chile’s largest salt flat. At about 3,000 square kilometers, it’s the world’s third-largest salt flat as well as one of the largest active sources of lithium. From evaporation ponds like those pictured, lithium bicarbonate is isolated from salt brine. Lithium is used in the manufacturing of batteries, and the increasing demand has significantly increased its value in recent years—especially for the production of electric-car batteries.
This image was captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite.
Photo Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by ESA