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From space, here is the least terrestrial place on Earth

It's recognised as the least terrestrial place on Earth: squeezed between some of the highest mountains in the world, it may not rain for years. It is the Atacama Desert, probably the oldest desert on the planet, and because of its 'non-terrestrial' characteristics it is the favourite site for testing space missions to Mars and hosting some of the world's largest telescopes, such as those of the European Southern Observatory.

On the occasion of World Environment Day, e-Geos - a company providing Earth Observation services and constituted by Telespazio (80%) and the Italian Space Agency (20%) - wanted to select a spectacular satellite image taken by Landsat in which it is possible to appreciate the incredible complexity of this territory characterised by deep valleys and sharp ridges, expanses of sand, salt lagoons, geysers and volcanoes.

The two very high mountain ridges bordering Atacama to the east and west cause the region not to receive a single drop of water. And this is not a figure of speech: on average, 15 millimetres of water per year are recorded, but in some places it is as little as 1 mm per year. It can happen that not a single drop of water rains for up to four years. The environment is so dry that on many of the region's peaks, which also reach over 6,000 metres, such as Ojos del Salado (the highest volcano in the world), there is no trace of snow. Precisely because of its 'unearthly' characteristics, some regions of the Atacama Desert are favourite places to test space missions to Mars.

In 2003, researchers wanted to replicate here some of the tests carried out by the Viking 1 Viking 2 landers on Mars in the 1970s to find possible traces of life: carried out in Atacama they were unable to identify any life forms. The Atacama Desert is home to many of the planet's most important telescopes, such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array interferometer consisting of 66 radio telescopes and the Very Large Telescope, while the mammoth Extremely Large Telescope (Elt) with a 39-metre diameter main mirror is under construction. 

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