Don’t look now, but in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates a hardy type of human beings are gradually beginning to thrive. Perched on the empty, windswept plains of the Atacama Desert, a high-altitude expanse of desolation that ranks as one of the driest places on the planet, astronomers and researchers are braving the otherworldly terrain for a chance to gaze deep into the fringes of outer space.
At elevations that push 17,000 feet above sea level, teams of international scientists in ultra-modern observatories endure the elements in a land where light pollution is virtually non-existent atop one of the highest plateaus in the world.
Now, after years of building these high-altitude, high-tech labs, some really wild events are starting to come out of Northern Chile.
Just last week it was reported on the Huffington Post that astronomers at the La Silla Observatory claim that, based on extrapolated findings, there could potentially be tens of billions of habitable planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone.
Now, as recently reported on the Economic Times this week, astronomers at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) station, an outpost located 9,500 feet up in the Chilean desert, are actually setting out to search for the origins of the universe.Wait. Did you just say ‘the origins of the universe?’ That’s pretty heavy.
You’re right. It is heavy. According to the ALMA website, the project is going to be “the largest astronomical project in existence.” Using radio waves as opposed to optical light, researchers with ALMA are hoping to peer into the “dark” parts of space where traditional telescopes are unable to see.
In search of the ashes of exploded stars that existed a few hundred years after the Big Bang, astronomers hope to gather signatures of life from a time period collectively referred to as “cosmic dawn.”
It is all a bit mind-boggling for this travel writer, though I wish the astronomers the best of luck on finding the origins of the universe. In the meantime I recommend stargazing in San Pedro de Atacama, the backpacker hub of the Atacama Desert set beneath a nightly blanket of stars.
[Image: jurvetson on Flickr]