Surrounding the ALMA high site are ancient volcanoes and a desert of sandstones made rusty and golden by millennia of volcanic activity.
Very few animals call this high and dry area home, but we spotted a few donkeys on the 17-mile (28 km) journey up to the telescope.
Rainfall here is practically non-existent, and the area is one of the driest places on planet Earth. The soils in this site, interestingly enough, can be likened to those on Mars due to their dryness. Every car that travels this road kicks a plume of high dust into the blue sky, and dust storms are very common. To keep the dust down, Chilean engineers paved part of the road with salt grains. The salt is mined from Atacama’s many salt flats, the dried crusts of mineral-rich seepage from water sources under the desert. A renewable resource, the salt may be heavy enough to handle ALMA’s road traffic and the Atacama’s gusty winds.
Discover more about The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on our website: https://public.nrao.edu/telescopes/alma/
Take a virtual tour of the observatory and its surroundings: