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The 10 most pristine places on Earth

By: OurAmazingPlanet Inc. on April 25, 2011, 7:42 p.m.
Atacama Desert, Chile

Photo: Dreamstime

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Atacama Desert, Chile

The Atacama is one of the world's strangest landscapes — a desert that really gets no rain at all. Salt basins, sand and lava cover much of its 40,000 square miles (103,600 square km), and the soil is so lifeless that NASA can design their Mars ground tests on Atacama land. Because of its high altitude, nearly non-existent cloud cover, dry air and lack of light pollution and radio interference from the very widely spaced cities, the desert is one of the best places in the world to conduct astronomical observations, and there are two major observatories there to gaze at the heavens.