Atacama Desert receives the most intense sunlight on Earth

There is a place that receives more solar radiation than any other point on the planet. It is located in Chile and it is the Atacama Desert. The intensity of this radiation is compared to that received by Venus, the second closest planet in the solar system to the sun. The surface of the Atacama Desert is arid, so much so that it resembles the surface of the planet Mars. In fact, it is the driest desert on Earth. At a specific point in this desert, the sun’s rays are the most intense on Earth.

Atacama Desert

Characteristics of the Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert is an uninhabited plateau located in South America. Its extension is 1600 kilometers, in a strip that covers the Norte Grande and Norte Chico regions of Chile, Arica, Parinacota, Antofagasta, Tarapacá, Atacama and northern Coquimbo. It is located at 2000 meters above sea level and has mountains that exceed 6000 meters.

After five years of taking measurements in Atacama, the American Meteorological Society published a study. It reveals that the high plateau area of the Atacama Desert receives the most intense levels of sunlight on the planet. This confirms the information received by satellites, which point to this plateau as the point where the sun’s rays are the most intense.

Mobile atmospheric observatory

To do the research and corroborate the satellite data, the researchers set up a small atmospheric observatory. They implemented it in two shipping containers. They equipped it with pyranometers, which are small instruments, no bigger than the palm of a hand. They are sensitive to ultraviolet, visible and infrared light.

The area where the observatory was installed is near the Tropic of Capricorn, at high altitude. There the atmospheric conditions are quite particular, with no clouds, low ozone concentrations, low concentration of greenhouse gases and very little precipitation. Considering these conditions, the solar energy measurement at that point was 308 watts.

Aridity of the Atacama Desert

Although during an event recorded in January 2017, that measurement set a record of, 2177 watts per square meter. This represents seven times the normal average for the area. Because of this burst, as the experts called it, plus others that occurred at different times in that same place, it can be compared to the solar radiation that Venus receives.

The researchers conclude that these spikes in solar bursts are caused by the presence of thin clouds. These clouds act like prisms in the atmosphere. This explains the variation formed by these peaks in the intensity record. Because of the wind, the clouds remain for a short time in the same place, lasting only seconds. However, during that minimum time span, they concentrate the energy at a specific point on the plateau.

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