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Only the Penitentes Shall Pass: Snow and Stars Near ESO’s ALMA

Icy penitentes march along the cold, dry ground on the Chajnantor Plateau near ALMA (ESO/Babak Tafreshi)

Icy penitentes march along the cold, dry ground on the Chajnantor Plateau near ALMA. Click for full version. (ESO/Babak Tafreshi)

I just had to share this beautiful image by ESO photo ambassador Babak Tafreshi; it shows a star-filled night sky above the Chajnantor Plateau on the border of Chile and Bolivia, the site of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observatory. The site, chosen for its remote location and incredibly clear, dry sky, is one of the best on Earth for observing the most distant objects in the Universe.

The jagged snow features in the foreground are known as penitentes, for their resemblance to the conical hats of Spanish religious group members known as the Nazarenos. They are the result of Sun and wind erosion on high-altitude snow, although the exact process isn’t entirely known.

According to an ESO description:

The penitentes are natural marvels found in high-altitude regions, such as here in the Chilean Andes, typically more than about 4000 metres above sea level. They are thin spikes and blades of hardened snow or ice, which often form in clusters, with their blades pointing towards the Sun. They attain heights ranging from a few centimetres, resembling low grass, up to five metres, giving an impression of an ice forest in the middle of the desert.

Read more about penitentes here, and see more images of the ALMA site here.

Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)

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About Jason Major

Jason is a Rhode Island-based graphic designer, photographer, nature lover, space exploration fanatic, and coffee addict. In no particular order.

Posted on February 23, 2015, in Earth and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Very beautiful landscape. Thanks for sharing it 🙂
    Jeff Barani from Vence (France)

    Like

  2. Very beautiful landscape. Thanks for sharing it 🙂
    Jeff Barani from Vence (France)

    Like

  1. Pingback: Pluto Has Giant Versions of Ice Formations Found on Earth | Lights in the Dark

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