Little Hell Bridge in Peru

Ferrocarril Central Andino, in the Andes, is the second highest railway in the world, and one of the most notable due to the great technical challenges faced and overcome while laying the line. The line starts at the port city of Callao, at almost sea level, then passes by Lima city and then reach the peak altitude of 4,818 meters in the Anticona pass (Ticlio, Lima). It continues until it reaches the mining town of La Oroya, where the railway forks in two routes: one to Cerro de Pasco and the other to Huancayo and Huancavelica. The ride along this route is a major attraction for train enthusiasts with 58 bridges, 69 tunnels – including the second highest railroad tunnel in the world - and 6 switchbacks.

One of the most famous bridges encountered along the Lima to La Oroya line is the Infiernillo or “Little Hell” Bridge, located in a narrow canyon between two tunnels. The track emerges from a tunnel on a vertical cliff, crosses the bridge, and immediately enters another tunnel in a vertical cliff. Underneath the bridge flows the Rio Rimac river, and adjacent to it runs the “Carretera Central” main highway.

The bridge is located at a height of 3,300 meters above sea level and is 129.5 from Callao. It was built in 1908 by the “American Bridge Company” and has a length of 62.78 meters. The tunnel at its both ends give the bridge the most dramatic appearance.


The Volcano That Grew Out Of A Cornfield

Rarely do volcanologist get to watch the birth, growth, and death of a volcano. Paricutin provided such an opportunity. Paricutin is a cinder cone volcano located in the state of Michoacan, in Mexico, close to a lava-covered village of the same name. The volcano erupted on February 20, 1943, and continued erupting till 1952, during which it destroyed the villages of Parícutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro, burying both beneath ash and lava. San Juan Parangaricutiro’s church spire is all that remains of the village, poking out of the now solidified lava rock.

Unlike most volcanoes, Parícutin volcano didn’t exist until that fateful day. This makes the volcano unique because it is one of the very few volcanoes whose birth has been witnessed by man. The volcano is located about 200 miles west of Mexico City, in the Michoacan-Guanajuato volcanic field, that contains about 1,400 volcanic vents. Paricutin is the youngest volcano to form in the Northern Hemisphere.

Birth of a volcano: The earliest known postcard of Paricutin Volcano, taken on day 2 of the eruption.

For weeks before the eruption, the inhabitants of this village had been experiencing tremors and deep rumblings from the earth. On February 20, 1943 a farmer, Dionisio Pulido, and his wife Paula were burning shrubbery in their cornfield when they observed the earth in front of them swell upward and crack to form a fissure about 2 meters across. They heard hissing sounds and saw smoke rising from the fissure, which they later described as having a repugnant smell of rotten eggs. Dionisio Pulido was not sure what it was, but it frightened him enough to flee the scene. Incredibly, what the farmer unknowingly witnessed was the birth of a new volcano.

The next day, Dionisio, along with several others from the village, went out at dawn to examine the site. What they saw both amazed and terrified them. Rocks and smoke were shooting into the sky while the cone was growing before their very eyes. After little more than a day the cone was already 50 meters high, and within a week it had reached 100 meters, and lava began flowing out onto the surrounding land.

"VOLCANO Born at 5:30pm on February 20, 1943 in the village of Paricutin, Michoacan. Photo taken by Chavez Ruiz on February 28, 1943."

The eruption became more powerful in March, generating columns of smoke several kilometers high. The volcano was most intense during the first year when it ejected more than 90 percent of the total material spewed out by the volcano. The thick smoke, ash, sulfur fumes and lava made it unsafe for the people in the villages of Paricutin and San Juan Parangaricutiro to stay, and they had to be evacuated. By August 1944, most of the villages of Paricutin and Parangaricutiro were covered in lava and ash. Only the towers of the church of San Juan Parangaricutiro were visible above the lava field. Because of timely evacuation, no one was killed by lava or ash. However, three people died by lightning associated with the eruption.

For the next nine years the volcano continued to erupt, although this was dominated by relatively quiet eruptions of lava that scorched the surrounding 25 square kilometers of land. In 1952, the eruption ended and Parícutin went quiet, attaining a final height of 424 meters (1,391 feet) above the cornfield where it began. Parícutin is believed to be a monogenetic volcano, meaning that it will never erupt again. It is classified as an extinct volcano. The cinder cone and the half-buried church are popular among tourists today.

The birth of the volcano generated tremendous interest not only among scientist but the populace at large. Pan American planes between Los Angeles and Mexico City reportedly diverted from their regular route in order to be able to show passengers the new volcano. It even captured the attention of the silver screen. Shots of the volcano during its active phase were included in 20th Century Fox's film Captain from Castile, released in 1947.

The cinder cone soon after its birth in 1943 in a Mexican cornfield.

(Left )View from Uruapan. (Right) View from Parangaricutiro

Same view from Parangaricutiro, but a few months later

Parangaricutiro: In the middle of photo, surrounding the church and blocking the street, is a black wall of lava oozing toward the church. Notice all wood from church and village is being removed, as the town is slowly covered with lava.

1943 photo shows a spectacular view of an eruption of Paricutin at night.

Satellite image of Paricutin volcano’s cinder cone.


Paranal Observatory in Atacama Desert, Chile

Paranal Observatory is an astronomical observatory located on the mountains of Cerro Paranal in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, at an altitude of 2,635 meters, about 120 kilometers south of Antofagasta and 80 km north of Taltal. Far from city lights, high above sea level, with more than 350 cloudless days a year, Atacama desert is an ideal location for ground-based astronomy.

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal is European Southern Observatory's premier site for observations in the visible and infrared light, and at one time, was one of the most powerful optical array in the world. This groundbreaking observatory consist of four separate 8.2 m (320 in) telescopes and a large collection of instruments. Additionally, the four main telescopes can combine their light to operate as a single device. Unknown to most people except astronomers and photographers, the observatory had a brief moment of mainstream fame in 2008 when it appeared in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace.

In addition to the telescopes, there are control buildings and maintenance facilities as well as a hotel which provides accommodation for staff and visitors. This is located 200 meters lower and 3 km from the telescopes, and embedded half into the mountain with the concrete coloured to blend into the landscape.

One of the best thing about Paranal Observatory is it offers free tours to visitors.

Auxiliary Telescope at the VLT Paranal.

The full moon rises behind Paranal Observatory.

Creating an artificial star using laser.

The new PARLA laser in operation at ESO’s Paranal Observatory.

Aerial view of the Paranal Observatory taken in December 2012.

The partially underground hotel.

Star Trails over the VLT in Paranal.

Rare 360-degree Panorama of the Southern Sky.