Zooming around with Zoe: The driest place on Earth is used as a NASA test site for future missions to Mars

Zooming Around With Zoe

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — The United States has seen its fair share of drought this year, but our country is in no way the driest place on Earth. To find that spot, you have to go to South America.

Few places are as hostile to life as Chile’s Atacama Desert. At some weather stations, rain has never been recorded and evidence suggests those locations possibly haven’t seen rain in thousands of years! Located on the western coast of the Andes mountains, this desert isn’t necessarily warm – the average yearly temperature is only in the low 60s. 

Since the desert is on the coast, you would think it would be humid. But, a cold ocean current chills the wind blowing onshore. Cold air can’t hold as much water vapor as warm air, and it dries up any moisture that does try to form. The desert is also on the Leeward side of the Andes, placing it in the rainshadow of the mountains. There is also a regular high-pressure system near the equator which keeps most storms away that try to form, bringing a trifecta of dryness to the desert. 

Due to these conditions, the Atacama is the perfect place for astronauts.  Why? This environment is like the landscape on Mars – well, at least the closest we can get on Earth.  The desert is a NASA test site for future missions to the red planet.  Scientists believe if they can create technology to discover microscopic activity in this desert, they may be able to use it to find life on Mars. 

Imagine 100 years or more without any rain…luckily, we get a good mix of showers and sunshine here in ENC.  

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