Situated in northern Chile, the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth. The Atacama Desert occupies a 1,000-km (600-mi) strip of land along the Pacific Coast.
Bounded by the rain blocking Andes Mountains to the east and low moisture air blowing in the from the Pacific Ocean, not much precipitation reaches this arid land. A coastal desert, rainfall is limited in areas to just a few millimeters of rain per year and other areas receive no rain at all.
Occasionally, the Atacama Desert experiences a green event, driven by rain which transform the landscape.
Rainfall triggers a desert bloom, known as “desierto florido” and occur roughly every 5-7 years in the Atacama Desert. The floor of the desert in parts blooms with flowers.
Botanists have logged more than 200 species of flowers that bloom after periods of adequate rain. The last bloom occurred in 2017 and a super bloom happened in 2015.
The environment of the Atacama Desert is so dry and harsh, researchers from NASA have used the area to test out equipment they plan to use to explore the existence of life on other planets. The Atacama Desert has one of the most Mars-like conditions on Earth.
NASA’s Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies, or ARADS, is one such robot that was tested out in the Atacama Desert. Until humans can physically visit the Red Planet, robotic missions like this one will be used to move across the surface, drill down to collect soil samples, and feed them to several life-detection instruments on board.