Saturday, December 4

The largest Solar System in Spain seeks to attract tourism to Ciudad Rodrigo

It all started with a group of astronomer friends amateurs and his passion for what lies beyond planet Earth. “A bunch of freaks out about the sky,” laughs Teresa Cazás, a member of the Astróbriga association, which has installed the largest scale solar system (1: 290,000,000) in Spain in Ciudad Rodrigo (Salamanca). An initiative that, they hope, will serve as a “revulsive” for the municipality and the region. “This is the west of the west and Ciudad Rodrigo is now dying,” laments Cazás.

“The idea is to create new opportunities for local development around the solar system,” adds Cristina Iglesias, who has coordinated the project’s citizen integration activities. “We also want to promote Ciudad Rodrigo, which is a very depressed area,” adds Juanjo Rodríguez, vice president of Astróbriga.

Inaugurated a few months ago, the Ciudad Rodrigo solar system has respected the scales of the size of celestial bodies and distances, in such a way that anyone who wants to go from one planet to another will do so at exactly the same speed –proportionally– to the one that travels the light. In urns filled with glycerine, the planets and satellites float, each, in which it would be its orbit.

The main objective is educational: the millions of kilometers What exists between heavenly bodies does not mean anything to many people, because they cannot make up their minds how far that distance is. “The solar system is a very powerful teaching tool, but there are very few tools to get an idea,” explains the president of the Astróbriga association, Nicolás Cahén, who has experience in Development Cooperation in education.

The size of the planets and the distance between them is a notion “very difficult to convey,” adds Domingo Benito, a teacher from Ciudad Rodrigo. “Through the solar system we can teach everything,” he says, beyond the order of the planets. “We want to awaken the interest and the scientific and cultural vocation,” he concludes.

Benito coordinates a group of professors and teachers at the Center for Teacher Training and Educational Innovation (CFIE) to develop materials that link the solar system with all possible subjects and train teachers. “We are from different areas: English, Physical Education, Art, Language, Physics and Chemistry, Biology, counselors, Art History, Latin …”, Benito lists. “The idea is that each teacher is capable of integrating the solar system in his class, that there are also contacts with other centers and that we use the solar system as an excuse even for Philosophy,” he says.

The Sun and the rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth –and the Moon– and Mars) are in Ciudad Rodrigo, but it is necessary to go further to visit Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Some of these planets can be visited by bike and others – like Neptune – are several kilometers from Ciudad Rodrigo. Neptune It is at the entrance to the Siega Verde archaeological site and Pluto is seven meters from the border with Portugal, and they are already talking about the possibility of including other celestial bodies in Portugal.

Measuring 4.8 meters in diameter, and supported by a curved beam, the Sun is a sphere of brass hands. Antonio Pérez – Solórzano drew the Sun and coordinated the construction activities. Inspired by the Exhibition Pavilion of the Viennese Secession, the Sol de Ciudad Rodrigo is a “ball of brass hands” located in the city. More than 1,700 people put their hand in the Sun (in exchange for a donation to finance the project, which has cost 90,000 euros), which in the end had 2,941 hands. Why some hands? “For the phrase that of ‘We are stardust reflecting on stars’. Because in the end it is what we are. The elements of the periodic table are created in the life and death processes of stars. And it reminds them of cave paintings , to the first paintings in the caves, which they made with their hands “, reflects Nicolás Cahén.

Antonio Pérez-Solórzano, architect, still remembers sleepless nights thinking about how to design the Sun. There are other European cities that have used the dome of the Church as a sun for their systems, but he was not convinced of the idea. “The rest of the bodies had to go to scale,” he says. When he asked the association to make this shell of brass hands –that it would be rigid so that it would not dance with the wind and would not weigh excessively–, the answer was: “We already have a project.”

Pérez – Solórzano highlights the importance of all solar bodies being made by professionals from the region. A blacksmith has placed his hands little by little in his moments for several months. The metal part of other planets has been made by another blacksmith, the glass of the urns has been assembled by a glazier from Ciudad Rodrigo, the photovoltaic panels of the monoliths have been installed by an electrician.

The celestial bodies are accompanied by information panels that have been reviewed by astrophysicists such as Javier Rodríguez-Pacheco, principal investigator of the Energetic Particle Detector (EPD) of the Solar Orbiter Mission, of the European Space Agency in collaboration with NASA. Rodríguez – Pacheco sums up his participation in the project as “scientific advice” on this “jewel that drives Ciudad Rodrigo into the 21st century and gives one more reason to visit”.

The support of the municipality has been enormous, all those interviewed by this newspaper agree. “We have been very surprised,” says Teresa Cazás, who has been in charge of participatory financing and sponsorship of the solar system. First, he went to the strongest companies in Ciudad Rodrigo in search of sponsorships, but soon companies that are not so linked to tourism or that were not even going through their best economic situation were encouraged. “More than a hundred companies have sponsored the initiative. The hands-on thing was also outrageous … We set ten euros for people to participate and put their name in the Sun. There were people who asked me if I could give one to their son and things like that, “he remembers. Astróbriga appreciates the financial help and the disposition that the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), local businessmen, the local action group Adecocir, the Provincial Council, Iberdrola, GNV and Acofarma, among others, have had.

Cristina Iglesias has met with associations, neighborhoods and towns to explain the objective of the project and how it could benefit them. “If people understand what it is there for, they will take care of it and they will not vandalize it,” he emphasizes. The next step that Iglesias has set himself is to integrate the solar system in Ciudad Rodrigo through its business fabric: with menus and tapas inspired by the galaxies, souvenirs or decoration in stores or take advantage of the sky of Ciudad Rodrigo to carry out observation activities . “We ask ourselves: how can we complement it so that the experience is more holistic?”

“It has been a team effort,” says Juanjo Rodríguez, vice president of the association and architect, who comments on how at the time the possibility of the planets orbiting – and changing position – or placing several planets was considered. “I don’t think I’ll stop at this,” he says. The Astróbriga association still has several challenges ahead: first, to publicize the solar system and organize guided visits and schools. And then, continue with the installation of some thirty plates that remind the visitor who passes through the orbit of the planet and that integrate the project in the city. They are also already working on a multilingual augmented reality app and the adaptation of the project for blind people. To these initiatives must be added a timeline in which the history of the universe can be traced from the Big Bang to the homo erectus.

“The association has grown too much, now we are 200 people. We have to slow down and take off. The idea from now on is to consolidate,” says Cahén. Ciudad Rodrigo’s solar system aims to promote quality tourism and to de-seasonalize it: there is a lot to see in Ciudad Rodrigo beyond the carnivals, Holy Week and the bridges.