20 Atacama Desert Facts to Surprise You

by Virupakshi
Atacama Desert Facts

Atacama Desert is one of the most fascinating deserts in world. Why like that? One of the reasons is that its soil and sand conditions are pretty much similar to that of Mars. Sensing NASA? Hell yes! We will get there. So, let us read some interesting Atacama Desert facts. We are sure, you will be surprised. Heads up! Atacama mummies are older than Egyptian mummies!

Atacama Desert Facts: 1-5

1. Atacama Desert is a desert situated on a plateau surrounding an area of 1,000 kilometres or 600 miles. It is present on the west coast of pacific and it lies to the west of Andes mountains.

2. It is present in South America and is spread out in Chile and Peru. Chile has complete control over Atacama Desert.

3. It mostly contains felsic lava (lava which contains feldspar and quartz igneous rocks), sand, salt lakes and its terrain is stony. Earlier there were rivers but they went dry some 12,000 years back.

4. It is considered as the driest desert in the world. According to the studies conducted by NASA, it is understood that it doesn’t receive rainfall more than 1mm per year. The desert didn’t receive proper rainfall from 1570 to 1971.

5. It is one of the few deserts which receive almost no rainfall. There are some areas in this desert which doesn’t receive rainfall at all. It is assumed that it is because of the presence of two mountain ranges (Andes and Chilean Coastal Range) on either side of this desert.

Atacama Desert Facts: 6-10

6. These mountain ranges block the moisture and clouds (from Pacific and Atlantic oceans) from entering the desert.

7. It falls in the rain shadow of Chilean Coastal Range. Don’t go by the name, it simply means that no rainfall on the areas which are under rain shadow. Adding to this, it falls on the Tropic of Capricorn.

8. As there is no water, one can paint the picture of the desert. The meagre presence of water and nutrients doesn’t allow the vegetation to grow and with vegetation being less in quantity, the animals seen here are also very few.

9. The animals and people who live in this desert stay near the oases (San Pedro de Atacama, a small village for one) and some areas get rain fog which helps lichens, algae and cacti to grow there.

10. The animals which are seen here are seagulls, Humboldt penguins, pelicans (near the coast) and foxes, deer, llamas and mice.

Atacama Desert Facts: 11-15

11. Historical evidences show that Atacamenian ruled this place during pre-Hispanic times and a pan American highway runs through Atacama Desert.

12. It is the largest supplier of sodium nitrate in the world. Sodium nitrate is used in making explosives, fertilizers etc. The mining was popular in 1940’s and now one can see abandoned mining sites in the desert.

13. The quality of sand and soil here is pretty much similar to the one that is present in Mars. This is the reason why NASA uses this area for testing satellites and other objects which are to be used for the mission to Mars.

14. It is also the site for testing of NASA-funded Earth-Mars Cave Detection Program. The scenes that you see in movies or television series about mars are mostly taken here.

15. Though it is more or less like a barren land, in late 1800’s two countries Chile and Bolivia were in bitter dispute in War of Pacific to get this desert. The reason being the presence of minerals and this area can be mined easily. At last Chile won.

Atacama Desert Facts: 16-20

16. The temperature in this desert vary a lot. In the mornings, it will be around 40 degrees Celsius while at night it falls to 4 degrees Celsius. The cloudless sky glows bright with moon and shiny stars.

17. The oldest mummies are seen here and not in Egypt. However, these mummies are artificial and they existed earlier than Egyptian mummies. The reason for their better preservation is lack of moisture. The oldest Atacama Desert mummy can be dated back to 7020 BCE whereas the Egyptian mummy is just 3000 BCE old.

18. Though its mornings are scorching, though it being the driest desert in the world, its high peaks are capped with snow. The reason, scientists believe, is because of the altitude which doesn’t allow the temperature to soar so high there.

19. This desert is used as a place for astronomical study. With more than 300-day clear sky, no light pollution, high height, it proves as the best place for the study of astronomy.

20. The largest ground telescope in the world, ALMA is located there. It is used to study how stars are formed is being studied with the help of 66 radio telescopes.

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Sources: 1, 2, 3

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