|Location||Antofagasta Region, Chile|
|Altitude||4,800 m (15,700 ft)|
|Telescopes||Atacama Cosmology Telescope|
Atacama Large Millimeter Array
Atacama Pathfinder Experiment
Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment
University of Tokyo Atacama Observatory
Location of Llano de Chajnantor Observatory
|Related media on Wikimedia Commons|
Llano de Chajnantor Observatory is the name for a group of astronomical observatories located at an altitude of over 4,800 m (15,700 ft) in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The site is in the Antofagasta Region approximately 50 kilometres (31 mi) east of the town of San Pedro de Atacama. The exceptionally arid climate of the area is inhospitable to humans, but creates an excellent location for millimeter, submillimeter, and mid-infrared astronomy. This is because water vapour absorbs and attenuates submillimetre radiation. Llano de Chajnantor is home to the largest and most expensive astronomical telescope project in the world, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). Llano de Chajnantor and the surrounding area has been designated as the Chajnantor Science Reserve (Spanish: Reserva Científica de Chajnantor) by the government of Chile.
The Llano de Chajnantor is located on the western side of the Puna de Atacama, which is another name for the southern part of the Altiplano. The main ridge of the Andes is over 200 kilometres (120 mi) to the east, well into Argentina. The Salar de Atacama basin borders the Puna de Atacama to the west, which in turn is bordered by the Cordillera Domeyko. The western side of the Puna de Atacama is dotted with the volcanoes of the Central Volcanic Zone of the Andean Volcanic Belt. The Llano de Chajnantor site itself is bounded by volcanic peaks of the Purico Complex, which have been active in the Holocene but have not erupted in historic times. Cerro Chajnantor is to the north, Cerro El Chascón to the east, and smaller peaks to the south and west. The Pampa la Bola lies to the northeast, north of Cerro El Chascón and east of Cerro Chajnantor. Llano de Chajnantor has an average elevation of 5,000 m (16,000 ft), while Pampa la Bola averages 4,800 m (15,700 ft). The thin atmosphere makes work difficult for humans, so much of the activity for ALMA will be conducted at a base camp in the Salar de Atacama basin at approximately 2,900 m (9,500 ft) in elevation.
Rainfall at the ALMA site averages 100 mm (3.9 in) annually. The dry climate of Llano de Chajnantor is due to three factors: the rain shadows created by the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range, the inversion created by the Humboldt Current off the coast of Chile, and dry air descending between the Hadley cell and the Ferrel cell, which forms the South Pacific High. While the site is generally viewed as being in the Atacama Desert, in terms of ecoregions it is in the Central Andean dry puna. Llano de Chajnantor is at the same latitude as deserts in southern Africa and central Australia.