Every year in mid December, the Earth contacts the shrapnel filled orbit of a 5 km wide asteroid, sending a shimmering swathe of shooting stars across the night sky.
The Geminids meteor shower is one of the most prolific of its kind, and as the featured photograph taken earlier this month asserts, few locations on the planet are better to view the phenomenon than Chile.
One of very few showers not caused by a comet, Geminids originates from the Earth’s proximity to the orbit of the asteroid Phaethon. The asteroid’s name is taken from the mortal son of Helios, Greek mythology’s sun god. Phaethon’s failed attempt at holding the sun chariot on a true course makes reference to the asteroid’s erratic orbit — that brings it closer to the sun than any other named asteroid.
Geminids begins early evening and burns brightest close to dawn. Records show that the shower is intensifying, so 2014’s iteration should be even more spectacular than the one seen earlier in the month. See our featured image — captured by Yuri Beletsky — in full here.
Stargazing in Chile
Chile is one of the world’s premier locations for astro-tourism. The altitude and low humidity of the country’s northern deserts ensure for such clear views that a large portion of the planet’s astronomy infrastructure resides there. In San Pedro de Atacama a number of operators offer star tours, with astronomy field trips and lectures in Spanish, French and English.
This celestial clarity continues south through much of the country. Valle de Elqui — the lush, pisco producing region of central Chile — is renowned for its stargazing and boasts accommodation specifically designed for astronomy. Every room at Elqui Domos is equipped with its own telescope and moon roof, and the hotel offers astronomy lectures and night-time horse walks.
To the north west of the valley, near La Serena, Parque Nacional Bosque Fray Jorge was recently made the first “starlight reserve” in the Americas for its top class viewing and dedication to preventing light pollution in the surrounding area.