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The Atacama Desert (Spanish: Desierto de Atacama) is a desert plateau in South America covering a 1,600 km (990 mi) strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes Mountains. The remote interior of the Atacama Desert is essentially tied for the driest desert in the world with the other equally driest region being some very specific spots within the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica.[2][3][4][5] It is also the only true desert to receive less precipitation than the polar deserts. Both regions have been used as experimentation sites on Earth for Mars expedition simulations. According to estimates, the Atacama Desert occupies 105,000 km2 (41,000 sq mi),[6] or 128,000 km2 (49,000 sq mi) if the barren lower slopes of the Andes are included.[7] Most of the desert is composed of stony terrain, salt lakes (salares), sand, and felsic lava that flows towards the Andes.

The desert owes its extreme aridity to a constant

The Atacama Desert (Spanish: Desierto de Atacama) is a desert plateau in South America covering a 1,600 km (990 mi) strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes Mountains. The remote interior of the Atacama Desert is essentially tied for the driest desert in the world with the other equally driest region being some very specific spots within the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica.[2][3][4][5] It is also the only true desert to receive less precipitation than the polar deserts. Both regions have been used as experimentation sites on Earth for Mars expedition simulations. According to estimates, the Atacama Desert occupies 105,000 km2 (41,000 sq mi),[6] or 128,000 km2 (49,000 sq mi) if the barren lower slopes of the Andes are included.[7] Most of the desert is composed of stony terrain, salt lakes (salares), sand, and felsic lava that flows towards the Andes.

The desert owes its extreme aridity to a constant temperature inversion due to the cool north-flowing Humboldt ocean current and to the presence of the strong Pacific anticyclone.[8] The most arid region of the Atacama Desert is situated between two mountain chains (the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range) of sufficient height to prevent moisture advection from either the Pacific or the Atlantic Ocean, a two-sided rain shadow.[9]

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The Milky Way streaking across the skies above the Chilean Atacama Desert

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