30 June 2020

Mysteries of the universe are also hidden in Chilean soil

Chile and the universe are connected. With landscapes ranging from desert to glaciers and spanning more than 4,000 kilometers in the southern hemisphere, Chile offers the world’s best star gazing conditions and has become the global capital of astronomy. Given the lack of light pollution and the favorable weather conditions in the Atacama Desert, the world’s leading research centers have chosen Chile to set up facilities to seek the answers of the future.

However, what few know is that Chile’s astronomical richness is not limited to the sky. Mysteries of the universe are also hidden in the soil, where millions of meteorites currently rest. Each has a fascinating story to tell and “meteorite hunters” strive to decipher their origins. Jorge Monsalve is one of them and this is his story.

He was born in March 1971 in Osorno, a city in southern Chile that contrasts with the dry landscapes where he works today. He grew up surrounded by forests with abundant vegetation and many animals. When he was 12 years old, his grandmother showed him a newspaper article about a meteorite that had been found in the Arizona Desert in the United States and sold for a very high price. “Meteor hunter” Jorge remembers being fascinated by the story, but he never dreamed that something that happened so many kilometers away would be possible in Chile. He was mistaken.

It was by pure change that a meteorite came into his hands a decade ago and, at that moment, his feelings were much stronger than he had imagined. A short time later, he was invited on his first meteorite hunting expedition in northern Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama.
Something unprecedented happened on that first journey: he found three meteorites on the first day! Everyone was surprised, he says. It is a feat that could take others years. “The joy, the happiness of finding your first meteorite is indescribable. I became fascinated with meteorite hunting and never let it go,” Monsalve says. He also realized how fortunate he was to be born in Chile. The country’s unique characteristics make it ideal for enjoying his passion to the fullest.

Jorge Monsalve is an example of the connection that exists between Chileans and the universe. That connection was even more evident in July 2019, when the entire country paused to look at the sky during the total solar eclipse. This event will happen again in the Araucanía region on December 14, 2020 and will be visible again in late 2021 from Antarctica.

Now Jorge Monsalve hopes to get out again and do what he likes best. As a meteorite hunter, he has found almost 300 of these space rocks, which are available for astronomical research. He feels fortunate to live in a country with such diverse territory. “This country is unique. I feel very privileged to be where I am and come from the place I do.” Jorge would like to extend the following invitation to you:


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