Atacaman Volcanoes Pierce the Sky

The entire universe in blog form
Aug. 7 2014 7:30 AM

One Picture, My Three Favorite Sciences

A photo combining geology, meteorology, and (indirectly) astronomy? Why yes, I’ll take one please:

Alien Atacama
An alien landscape here on Earth. Click to atacamenate.

Photo by ESO/ Armin Siber

Oh, you do indeed want to click to embiggen that! Taken by European Southern Observatory photographer Armin Silber in northeast Chile, it shows two ancient volcanoes: Licancabur on the left, and Juriques on the right. Both tower over the plains of the Atacama Desert, which I’ll note sits on a plateau that in some places already reaches the incredible elevation of 4,000 meters (over 13,000 feet). Licancabur reaches a peak at 5,900 meters (19,400 feet!) and Juriques 5,700 meters (18,700 feet).


Weirdly, the border between Chile and Bolivia wraps around the two volcanoes. Chile gets the caldera for Licancabur while Bolivia gets the caldera for Juriques. I wonder how that was negotiated?

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

The clouds are interesting, too. The Sun was low on the horizon, so the snow on the volcanoes is pinkish-orange. The peaks pierce the clouds, which show the same color. I imagine that’s from the reflection off the snow. Note that the clouds farther out from the volcanoes are gray.

And what does this have to do with astronomy? The Atacama Desert is the location of several observatories, including Paranal, La Silla, and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, a radio telescope observatory that has only been fully operational for a year or so. See the bus making its way across the picture in the foreground? That’s taking staff to ALMA control center for their eight-day shift.

One of my biggest regrets in life was not attending the inauguration of the observatory; I was invited but a previous engagement prevented me from going. I really wanted to see that area, go up to those soaring elevations, experience the amazing geography for myself.

Someday. I’ll add it to my already ridiculously long list of places on this planet I have to see. It’s a big world, and you could spend 10 lifetimes trying to see it all.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.