When stargazers dream of the ultimate destination for looking up at the heavens, the high-altitude Atacama Desert in northern Chile likely stands at the top of the list.
Nature videographer Nicholas Buer recently shot this stunning film, taken over 12 days while he camped out in the San Pedro de Atacama region of northern Chile. Sitting at an altitude of more than 2,600 feet (792 meters) above sea level and with bone-dry air, the region has some of the most transparent, darkest skies anywhere on Earth.
Make sure you watch the video in high definition and in full-screen mode to get the full effect.
Highlighting much of the breathtaking footage—each shot was the result of three to five hours of patient shooting—are a number of special celestial targets of opportunity.
“I visited at a time when Venus was situated quite close to the centre of the Milky Way, an astronomical event that only takes place every eight years or so,” Buer explained to National Geographic in an email.
“I also timed my visit with the autumn equinox, which is a good time of year to capture Zodiacal light, the celestial phenomenon caused by sunlight scattering interplanetary space dust in the Zodiacal cloud. It stretches across the ecliptic and glows for a short while after sunset like a UFO beam, and I was lucky enough to witness this every night I stepped out into the dark,” he added.
The downtown core of the Milky Way lights up the skies above the stark Atacama desert in Chile. Credit: Nicholas Buer/ nicholasbuer.com
Filming in remote, desolate regions like the Atacama comes with its own excitement, and for Buer, an adventure is not complete unless there are challenges by night and day. This trip was no different, he says.
“I found the Atacama to be a very harsh landscape; the dry air makes your skin crack and split, the winds pummel you with every gust, and the altitude slows you down and affects your ability to hike with heavy equipment,” he said.
“By the end of this trip me, my kit, and my car had taken a real battering, but it was all worth it; I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”