The Atacama desert in Chile is one of the most arid places on the planet – averaging less than one inch of rainfall per year! High altitude, almost constant clear sky, dry air, and lack of light pollution and radio interference due to its remote location make it a premier place to observe the heavens above. Additionally, the subsurface soil is somewhat similar to conditions on Mars. Robotic rovers deployed in the Atacama have found subsurface microbes that are highly resistant to salt. Using a rover-mounted robotic drill and sampling device, soil samples recovered from 80 cm(31 inches) contained unusual and highly specialized microbes that were distributed in patches, which researchers linked to the limited water availability, scarce nutrients and chemistry of the soil.
The Atacama desert is the most Mars-like region on Earth.
NASA’s InSight Lander Mars temperature probe was to be hammered 16 feet into the Martian soil to check internal heat flow as a way to characterize the Martian interior structure, but it jammed last week when the probe encountered unanticipated rock.
Signs of Spring: The Vernal equinox is now less than two weeks away, and we spring ahead from Eastern Standard to Daylight Saving Time Sunday.
5:30am marks the start of the pre-dawn ‘golden hour’ for viewing Venus, Saturn and Jupiter in a line.
In the evening: a waxing crescent moon slides higher in the 7 p.m. sky each day
On Monday the moon is left of rosey Mars.