Brightly colored solar evaporation (salt) ponds in a desert
landscape give this astronaut photo an unreal quality. The ponds sit
near the foot of a long alluvial fan
in the Pampa del Tamarugal, the great hyper-arid inner valley of
Chile’s Atacama Desert. The alluvial fan sediments are dark brown, and
they contrast sharply with tan sediments of the Pampa del Tamarugal.
Nitrates and many other minerals are mined in this region. A few
extraction pits and ore dumps are visible at upper left. Iodine is one
of the products from mining; it is first extracted by heap leaching.
Waste liquids from the iodine plants are dried in the tan and brightly
colored evaporation ponds to crystallize nitrate salts for collection.
The recovered nitrates are mainly used for fertilizer for higher-value
crops. They are also used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals,
explosives, glass, and ceramics, as well as in water treatment and
Astronaut photograph ISS019-E-14473
was acquired on May 5, 2009 with a Nikon D2X digital camera fitted with
a 400 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations
experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space
Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 19 crew. The image in this article has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program
supports the laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that
will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make
those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken
by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, NASA-JSC.