The Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth – despite being right next to the Pacific Ocean – imaged by ESA’s Proba-V minisatellite.
On average, only a few millimetres of rain reach the arid landscape annually. The cold Humboldt Current running along the northern Chilean coast keeps moisture bound up to the west, while the Andes Mountains block rainfall from the east.
The 100 m-resolution image shows the coast and dry river valleys of the Atacama. The blue–green area to the east is the Salar de Surire, a salt plain containing several lakes with nesting flamingo colonies. Just northeast of this plain, the 5470 m-high Pukintika volcano is visible as a light-blue area.
Launched on 7 May 2013, Proba-V is a miniaturised ESA satellite tasked with a full-scale mission: to map land cover and vegetation growth across the entire planet every two days.
Its main camera’s continent-spanning 2250 km swath width collects light in the blue, red, near-infrared and mid-infrared wavebands at 300 m resolution and down to 100 m resolution in its central field of view.
VITO, the Flemish institute for technological research, processes and then distributes Proba-V data to users. VITO has a produced an online gallery highlighting some of the mission’s most striking images so far, including views of storms, fires and deforestation.