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Higher Ground

29 Jun 2018, 13:28 UTC
Higher Ground
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

I have spent my entire life at sea level. From the valleys of Ohio to Washington, D.C., I have gone up some hills, but not very big ones. So, in January 2018, when I found myself above half of the Earth’s atmosphere, generously gulping oxygen from a tank on my back, it hit me that this would probably be as close as I would get to outer space without being in an airplane. How did I get up so high?
If you take a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Calama, and drive a few hours, you will reach an area of the Atacama Desert that has been used to view the skies for centuries. Chajnantor Plateau is the perfect place to view clear, dark skies. Its name means “launch site” in Kunza, the language of Atacameño, the local indigenous community. Chajnantor is very high (about 5,000 meters above sea level) and dry, with very little water vapor, making it an ideal location for doing radio astronomy. Atop that plateau for the last half a decade, 64 huge antennas work as one coordinated observatory to explore the universe. That observatory’s name is ALMA, or The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, and it ...

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