Virtual Visit to the Atacama Desert and Astro-imaging with Mark Christensen, Ph.D.
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Travel to the Dark Skies of Chile’s Atacama Desert with Mark Christensen
In July 2013 the Christensens traveled to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, near the Tropic of Capricorn, lodging at San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations (SPACE). There they observed and photographed the night sky and explored the many unique geological wonders of the area. The conditions for astronomical observation and imaging are ideal in the Atacama Desert as parts of it have not seen rainfall in decades, resulting in especially low humidity. This, together with an altitude of 8,000 feet and little light pollution, produces clear, dark skies. Additionally, the richest and most beautiful parts of the Milky Way are nearly overhead during the Southern Hemisphere's winter months. The Milky Way is so prominent in the Atacama Desert that it casts a shadow. In the cultures of the indigenous peoples of Chile and nearby Peru, the star clouds and dark nebulae of the Milky Way have an importance similar to that of the star constellations of the cultures in the Northern Hemisphere.
About Mark Christensen, Ph.D.
Dr. Christensen's interest in astronomy began in high school when he built his first telescopes. He completed his BS in Physics and Mathematics at Wayne State in 1969 and went on to earn a MS in Physics at Purdue in 1970 in experimental solid state physics. In 1975 he completed his PhD in Mathematics. From 1975 to 1984 he was a member of the Mathematics faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology. While in Atlanta, in addition to his academic pursuits, he was active in the Atlanta Astronomy Club, serving as an officer and later as chairman of their observatory construction committee.
In 1984 he joined the technical staff of the Defense Systems Division of Northrop Corporation (later Northrop Grumman) in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, initially specializing in real-time algorithm development for electronic systems. He retired from Northrop Grumman in 1999 as Vice President of Engineering for the Rolling Meadows plant. He then joined the technical staff of the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia as a consultant in the area of testing and evaluation of aircraft radar and infrared self-protection systems. Now retired, Dr. Christensen enjoys traveling with Arlene, his wife of 47 years. He continues to be active in astronomy and gives public lectures on astronomical topics as a member of the Fox Valley Astronomical Society and the Northwest Suburban Astronomers in Chicago's western suburbs.