El Planetario de Medellin is part of Parque Explora.
Visitors to Medellin arrive with a list of 'must see' items: Parque Arvi, Plaza Botero, El Museo de Antioquia, and various other sites. One that kids of every age ought to explore is Parque Explora, including Medellin's El Planetario, next door to the Exploratorium & Jardin Botanico. We visited recently for the first time, and were captivated by the idea of the place, if not the very understated venue itself. We're happy to report that El Planetario de Medellin is a must see. Its focus is on los niños, the little ones with the hope that they'll see the displays and videos and be captivated by the potential for exploration they find here. Named for Fr. Jesús Emilio Ramírez González, (1904-1981) a priest who was also Colombia's preeminent scientist, El Planetario represents more than just a venue to study the stars. It also represents the effort of this city that abandoned the strife & violence of its recent past to reach for those stars. El Planetario opened in 1984 in the midst of Medellin's darkest hour, a time when drugs and violence defined the city. Despite that malevolent and unsavory history, Medellin's people foresaw a better, higher purpose for themselves, and chose to push forward with El Planetario. First director of El Planetario, Gabriel Jaime Gómez Carder, said this: "The Planetarium (opened) in one of the (cities) most difficult moments, the apogee of drug trafficking, giving the city a respite that can never be forgotten. It was a beacon of light in the darkest night that Medellín has had."
Los niños swarm around the displays
Walking through the exhibits evoked memories of my own childhood, with many references to early space explorers, long ago missions to the moon and near earth stations, and artifacts gathered from those historic voyages: rocks, and images, and portraits of brave spacefarers, and replicas of the fragile craft that took them into the vacuum of space. Watching kids on their school trip to El Planetario, I wondered if they felt the same sense of awe, the same urge to join those original space voyagers? The kids above seemed genuinely interested in the various displays, the demo of space rocks & replica asteroids, the interactive features.
From Icy, Forbidding Orb, to Warm, Green, Living Planet
A young woman named Xibelly Mosquera Escobar certainly felt the pull of this discipline. She's the first professional astronomer in Colombia, having received her degree in astronomy from the University of Antioquia. This is Ms Mosquera Escobar below. (Photo El Tiempo)
Xibelly Mosquera Escobar
Apparently my wish to see children inspired by space is shared by the middle generation. Ms Mosquera Escobar stated in a recent interview: "When I...see how children get excited about astronomy, I (am) seeing myself as a child, and that always reminds me why I like this science so much." From Medellin, Ms Mosquera Escobar witnessed the opening of El Planetario, and was no doubt inspired by it.
Displays at El Planetario de Medellin.
There's something about a scientific display, a quiet, deferential feel for humankind's unquenchable thirst to know what's out there, and what it means, and what is our place in it? We can't help asking question after question, trying to discern, and explore, and travel to places that pull us toward them, knowing we'll find...things we never saw before. As I roamed the darkened halls of El Planetario, I felt hopeful that, as Walter Cronkite intoned about space many years ago, "The dream is alive," and maybe some of the kids I saw at El Planetario feel it, too. I wondered if perhaps one of them might one day be Colombia's first astronaut? Now, there's a dream.
DOMO: El Planetario's Wide Screen Theater
The highlight of any planetarium visit is the wide-screen movie theater presentation, and El Planetario doesn't disappoint. We sat back in our upper level seats, settled in like astronauts prepared for launch, and waited for the multi-sensation overhead video. Ours was titled 'Helios,' a two part presentation lasting about thirty minutes. Helios, as the name suggests, is about suns and their proliferation across billions of miles in the universe.
DOMO Offers Different Planetary Shows Every Day
Our show focused on La Via Lactea, the Milky Way. With 110 seats canted at 27 degrees, the 15 meter Domo screen offers viewers a 360 degree, 160 degree opening, fish-eye view. Thirteen computers feed into 2 projectors to create the image, so that the sweep and vision is wholly immersive, transporting viewers into deep space. When stars explode, and asteroids rush by, you feel the cold, unplumbed depths, and sense the unfathomable distance between stars. Stirring, space themed music envelops you with a 7 channel system, and the urge to know more, and soar higher that's planted in our DNA makes us a curious kids again.
Just a Few Of the Clubs & Groups That Utilize El Planetario
Young people from all over Medellin come to El Planeterio regularly to meet and share their interests. In addition to the exploration & academic groups above, El Planeterio hosts The Orion (astronomy) Club, a training group for The Astronomy Olympiad, the science fiction club Explora, 'Speedcubing Antioquia,' a club that calls itself The Environmental Botanical Club, even a group called Astronomy for the Blind. El Planetario truly does focus on los niños. (Note: Entry to El Planeterio is free for Medellin residents from Estratos 1,2 & 3.
"The Earth...that pale blue spot, the only home we've ever known." Carl Sagan
Having witnessed Sputnik when I was un niño, plus all the early U.S. space efforts like Echo 1 & 2, and then our first tentative steps away from our home planet, I felt inspired to see young people at El Planeterio grabbing the torch of space exploration. I hoped they'd run with it, faster and faster. In my childhood I watched Projects Mercury, and Gemini, and Apollo. I saw humans walk on the moon for the first time. I witnessed SkyLab, and Voyager, and Mariner, and the Space Shuttle program. Now the International Space Station glides silently by overhead, constantly occupied by people of many nations engaged in the pursuit of the why, and the when, and the what of our universe and our place in it. Looking at those kids, I knew one of them could be on the ISS someday. They could be inspired by El Planetario and see their future in space. There was a sadness, too, admittedly. Of course I wanted to be able to join them. But beyond that, I was saddened by my home countries abandonment of the great efforts, the shared monumental initiatives aimed at increasing our knowledge. I was sad to acknowledge the diminishment of our thinking since the days of Apollo. Maybe others will reignite that flame? I hoped so.
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 8 to 5:30. Thursday 8:30 to 6, Saturday, Sunday, & Holidays 10:00 to 6:30. (Closed Mondays except holidays)
Admission: Adults $15,500 COP ($5.50 USD), Students $14,000 COP ($4.50 USD) Teachers free, with up to four accompanied students who pay $11,000 COP ($3.50 USD). Price includes admission, Planetary DOMO video, and access to the 42 interactive displays.
El Planeterio Medellin: CARRERA 52 n. 71 - 117MEDELLIN COLOMBIA+57 (4) 516 83 00.