Everything is made from Stardust – Day 475
Two fascinating subjects; rocks and stars. Their age and vastness remind me how insignificant us humans are. They also remind me that we are all part of the same thing. Everything is made from Stardust.
More rocks. This time they are Chilean rocks. And colourful ones as well. Were they going to match the awesomeness of the Argentinean ones that we saw a couple of days ago?
Before that, we visited Yerbas Buenas or is it Hirbas Buenas. How does a place have two names? We paid our 3000 Chilean pesos (About £3.50. Chile – ditch the zeros), had breakfast and then went to explore some Petroglyphs on a massive cluster of rocks standing in the middle of a flat plateau. This area used to be a dumping ground until the 1980s when someone discovered the drawings on the stone.
Our guide walked us around and onto the clay boulder, pointing out the basic drawings which were created thousands of years ago. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to when these carvings were made. Was it 8,000 years ago? Who knows, but they are old.
One of the first drawings we saw was of a pregnant Lama with a baby shown inside. (I have read elsewhere that it was a fox! No way José). There were quite a few drawings of these animals, indicating that they too have been here for thousands of years.
It was fun and fascinating climbing over the rocks and coming across more and more rock art. The cynic in me wondered whether these were made recently to attract people into the area, however, Victor our guide pointed out that the markings were the same colour as the rock surface, so weathered at the same time. If we scratch the surface now, the tone of the indent would be different.
One of the drawings was of a two-headed Lama, one eating grass, which would be the female. They often feed as they are pregnant for 11 months of a year and have a baby each year. The other head was looking up, searching for predators, the male’s role. In the body was zig-zags and we had to guess what this represented. A river? The mountains? It is believed that this signifies life, from birth to death. Interesting that a heart monitor displays the same pattern.
We climbed back into the bus and drove along the bumpy track through the stream to the Valle Arcoiris, otherwise known as the Rainbow Valley. This is located in the Domeyko Mountain, at 3,200m above sea level. As from the name, you can imagine that we would see a lot of colourful rock.
The formations were different from what we have already experienced a couple of days ago near Salta. It seemed more raw, fresher in a way. And from what Victor informed us, in geological terms this area is 100 million years old, so a lot younger than the 800 million years old rocks near Salta.
Once again, these rock formations are due to the movement of the tectonic plates which pushed up the Paleozoic rocks, and we could see beautiful green and cream rocks; the deep emerald green was in small neat oblongs amongst the cream quartz. The stone felt hot in contrast to another rock I had picked up, which was cool; a crystallised gypson like glass.
In the background were stunning views of the Andes with snow dripping down the top of the peaks. A magical, desolate place.
In the evening, we went on our next trip to see another miraculous sight. This time, it was much larger and older… the incredible beauty of the night sky. What a picture. Being amongst mountains and stars reminds me how insignificant us humans are. I can imagine for some people this may feel daunting, for me, it is freeing and puts life into perspective. What on earth was I getting in a tizzy about the other day getting the bus tickets?
We first sat and listened to a lady explaining about light years, how our next nearest star, which actually is a binary pair: Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, are 4.3 light-years away. If we got into a rocket today, it would take us 76,000 years to reach them….if we miraculously survived! We were also shown a picture of our galaxy and how it is made up of 8 spiral arms with a black hole in the centre.
We then moved into an open space where we could clearly see the one of the spiral arms Orion. Our solar system sits between this arm and Sagittarius, which can be seen in the winter months here in the Southern Hemisphere. (Please don’t quote me here – I may have misunderstood this and you are welcome to correct me).
In the viewing area, there were 6 large telescopes for us to look through, while a young man explained what we were looking at. It was quite a challenge walking in the dark and finding the eyepiece. One time, I nearly poked my eye out!
Through the naked eye, I could just make out a tiny dot, and through the telescope, there was an incredible number of stars in this one area. Another telescope we could see what looked like a cloud, was in fact another galaxy, the pair of Alpha Centauri stars which liked like diamonds.
Tim suggested that the company should provide comfy loungers for people to relax on, and after that, the suggestions flowed from other guests, including proposing a hot tub. Through much hilarity, we did realise that the steam would obscure the clear view.
We were offered seats, not the loungers that Tim suggested, but white plastic chairs and leant back to view the stars. Despite being about 9km from the small isolated town of Atacama, we could still see a tiny bit of light pollution, unlike when we were in our swag bags under the stars near Uluru in central Australia.
A young man called Rodrigo Zúñiga (who has just published a book about astrology) highlighted a number of the constellations for us. His enthusiasm was infectious. We could see the four stars of Cancer, the stickmen of Gemini, the curved shape of Leo’s head and the Southern Cross. It reminded me of 47 years ago doing a school project about the constellations and being fascinated by these back then. I remember the bubbling feeling of wonderment as I do now.
What a day, geology and astronomy, two incredible subjects about the wonders of the Universe, reminding me that everything is made from Stardust.
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