by Carly Roden
As descendents of the Mayas - one of the first civilizations to master the field of astronomy - it should come as no surprise that the people of the Yucatán are still fascinated by the heavens.
The Arcadio Poveda Ricalde Planetarium, housed on the lower level, or "sótano,"of the Olimpo Cultural Center, is named after a Yucatán-born astronomer who began his studies in Mérida and the nearby port city of Progreso. After studying physics and math at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Poveda obtained a doctorate in astronomy from the University of California at Berkeley. He has been recognized as a Distinguished Son of Mérida and was awarded the Eligio Ancona Medal by the state government in addition to other awards.
A fairly small venue, the planetarium can accommodate up to 78 stargazers in comfortable, semi-reclining seats that are arranged to provide everyone with a panoramic view overhead. The presentations, which change every six months, are digitally projected onto a large, dome ceiling above the audience and accompanied by music, sound effects and narration. The auditorium is also air-conditioned, which makes visiting the planetarium a good escape from the midday sun.
Matinee shows are usually geared toward younger students visiting on field trips. These presentations cover basic astronomy and provide information that is easy for children to grasp but still of interest to adults. Currently showing on Tuesdays at 7 pm is "New Horizons," a presentation that begins with a stunning view of the night sky as seen over Mérida in the spring, and then journeys through our solar system. The audience locates the North Star and constellations like Ursa Major and Orion, hears some astronomy-related Greek mythology, and learns important facts about each of the heavenly bodies such as distance from the sun, composition, and climate.
Evening and Sunday shows are intended for all ages, but sometimes depart from astronomy and delve into other areas of science that can be exciting on the large, overhead screen. The latest feature is "Microcosms," on Fridays at 7 pm, a film that shrinks the audience down to the size of a grain of sand and ventures into the human body to fight off an infectious virus.
All of the shows are narrated in Spanish and can be tough for non-native speakers to follow. However, the awe-inspiring views of the galaxy can be appreciated by anyone -regardless of language.
The planetarium is open Tuesday through Saturday with shows at 10 am, 11 am, noon, 5 pm and 7 pm, and Sundays with shows at 11 am and noon. Tickets are $30 pesos for the general public and $15 pesos for children under 12, disabled citizens, students and teachers, and seniors, and can be purchased at the information booth at the entrance to the Olimpo between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm. You should arrive at least 15 minutes early, as no one is allowed to enter after the show begins.
The Olimpo Cultural Center is located in downtown Mérida at the intersection of Calles 62 and 61, just across the street from the Main Plaza. The center is also home to a bookstore and a small art gallery that features gorgeous still life and landscape paintings. La Vía Olimpo Restaurant and Café is located outside the center's main entrance and features everything from Yucatecan cuisine to hamburgers and sandwiches. The café offers both indoor and outdoor dining, and Internet access is available at $10 pesos per half hour. The Planetarium's website is www.merida.gob.mx/municipio/sitios/planetario