The creation of our planet and the life that inhabits it is nothing short of a miracle. On earth there are 94 different types of elements that occur naturally, these originated in space and also make up the normal matter in our observable universe. These elements came together in a unique way to form the earth, as well as the complex beings who are constantly evolving to thrive on its surface. Then there are the other divine coincidences, such as the perfect distance we are from the sun, enabling our water to remain liquid and sustaining this abundant life… Not to mention the series of carnal interactions that have happened from amoeba to ape over thousands of millennia in order for each one of us to be here. In this moment.
When I look up at the night sky I think about the big things, and it comforts me. We are part of something much MUCH grander than ourselves and we are connected to the stars as we are connected to our own parents, as we are connected to each other. With such an intense fascination for the universe the chance to look at the stars from one of the highest and driest places on earth was very exciting. San Pedro de Atacama is 2,400 metres above sea level, this combined with a shrivellingly low total annual rainfall and low light pollution makes it one of the world’s clearest spots for star gazing. This is why the super telescope Alma (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, also meaning “soul” in Spanish) sits near here, searching the intergalactic space dust for new information about the birth of stars and distant galaxies. We only had one day in San Pedro so we wanted to squish in as much cosmos related fun as possible!
Museo del Metorito:
This is a museum created out of the private meteorite collection of one man. A marine biologist by profession. For more than 30 years Rodrigo Martinez de los Rios has been collecting meteorites out in the Atacama desert and claims to have the largest collection in the world with over 3000 pieces. More than enough to curate into a small but very fascinating museum. Upon entry into the space dome, we received an audio guide and step by step were taken through each exhibit accompanied by a lot of very in depth information about the creation and importance of each of the meteorite fragments on display. Some of the information went over my head but the stuff that went in was awe inspiring. Beyond the blackness that we see when we look up at night, elements are crashing together with immense speed and pressure, chemical reactions are taking place on a level that blows my tiny little mind! The highlight for me (of the museum and maybe even my journey of life’s discoveries) was holding the inside of a planet. I wish I’d taken a photo of it but I will never forget what it felt like. A fully formed planet, which would have once been around 900kms in diameter had pin-balled through the solar system, breaking into pieces. Broken to the core, its final act was to hurtle through earths atmosphere and land in the Atacama desert to be picked up by Rodrigo and his team. Now, a tennis ball sized lump of heavy metal, it gave me a new appreciation for the earths core and the series of events that all had to come together perfectly to enable its creation. It was also a tangible reminder that planets are not indestructible. Did you know that an estimated 40 meteorites hit the earths atmosphere everyday? It’s only a matter of time before we collide with another big boy…
Cost 3500 pesos ($7aud)
Address: 101 – Tocopilla, San Pedro de Atacama, Región de Antofagasta, Chile
Hours: 10AM–1PM, 4–8PM
Valle de la Luna
That evening we went to see the valley of the moon. Taking its name from its ‘out of this world’ appearance, I thought the red rocks made it feel more like Mars. We took a tour to do this because someone told us it was the only way to appreciate the sunset, but having done it, I would recommend hiring a bike and making your own way. The tour was OK, they take you to see a few weird rock formations including “The 3 Marys” and “The Amphitheatre” but having just come from the tour with Red Planet and been immersed in the landscape for a couple of days I felt like I’d been there before. The main event was supposed to be the sunset, which perched on a cliff with 100 other people is OK. I actually think it’s after the sun has gone down, when the sky and the valley all turn beautiful shades of pink and orange that is the real spectacle. The volcanoes on the horizon really give the landscape an extraterrestrial vibe. This also happens as everyone has piled back into the buses and are driving away, so try and stay after the sun has actually dipped below the horizon (which you could still do and bike back to the town before complete darkness sets in).
Cost 8000 pesos ($16aud) plus 3000 pesos for the park ticket ($6aud)
There are tour companies on every corner and they are all relatively similar
The Star Tour with Time Travel Atacama
There are several companies offering star tours in San Pedro but we chose to go with Time Travel Atacama. Even though they are a relatively new company they have received nothing but positive reviews on Tripadvisor and from the moment he picked us up from our hostel Rodrigo was super friendly and professional telling us all about his passion for astronomy. “The Big Bang Experience” starts with a presentation about the beginning of the universe and is explained with such brilliant narration and passion that it paints the perfect scene for the evening of star gazing ahead. Rodrigo then made sure we were all equipped with ponchos and hot drinks then led us out into the garden where the perfect environment is all set up with chairs and a telescope ready for a new education. We learnt about the constellations, the formation of planets, why the Milky Way looks like it does, how to navigate using the Southern Cross and also how the sky pivots during the night and completely changes throughout the seasons. All of this to the sweet interplanetary sounds of DJ Pablo Wickel who plays far out music while you contemplate outer space. Rodrigo is an absolute legend and this tour far surpassed my expectations, he had unspeakable patience with my amateur photography questions and even sent us photos from that night before we’d woken up the next morning. His positive outlook on humans and how unique we all are was a perfect fit to the big ideas I’ve been pondering myself. His respect for Carl Sagan and the cosmos shines through his teaching methods.
Cost 20,000 ($40aud)
Address: Ayllu de Coyo s/n, San Pedro de Atacama