John Glenn Astronomy Park

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Regular Programs End for 2018: JGAP Plaza Open to All

Friends of JGAP,

Our regularly scheduled programs have ended for 2018. During the wintertime, clouds are much more frequent, volunteers are busy with holiday activities, and the visitors to the Hocking Hills State park are fewer in number. We will be starting up our public programs on March 1, 2019.

However, even though we will not be conducting regular public programs, the plaza at the John Glenn Astronomy Park is open to all at any time. If you’d like to pay it a visit, feel free! Bring a telescope, bring a lawn chair, or just bring yourself. (No reservations required!)

If you intend to stay at night, however, please sign in at the kiosk and stay on the grounds. (Thanks!)

In 2019, we will be putting the dates and times of our new programs for 2019 in our parking reservation system.

In addition, we beg you not to make the dangerous (and illegal) decision to park along route 664. Please do not do this.

Thanks for your time and thanks for visiting JGAP!

Please see our Frequently Asked Questions page for more information.


The John Glenn Astronomy Park is dedicated to sparking an interest in science, learning, and exploration by sharing with visitors the wonders of the sky, both day and night.   

The Inspiration

Throughout most of history, humans have been inspired by the wondrous sight of a night sky filled with stars.  Our stories and mythologies have been mapped upon the patterns of the stars.   Our calendars, festivals, and agriculture have been linked to the movement of the heavens.  In recent times, a view of the night sky has been the inspiration in many young people for lifelong passion for science in general.

Sadly, however, the lights of our modern world have, in recent decades, put our view of the heavens behind a veil of artificial light.   Most of us live under a sky that gives only a pale, washed out hint of its former beauty.

An astronomy park in the Hocking Hills State park was inspired by our vanishing night sky.   The Hocking Hills, in rural southeastern Ohio, is one of the few areas left in the state of Ohio where the night sky can be seen in its near pristine state.   The observatory will provide a venue for visitors to the Hocking Hills State park to experience the night sky through a large telescope and with their eyes.

The observatory also draws on the countless generations of humans who marked the important changes of the seasons through the motion of the sun and who built great structures, like Stonehenge in England,  the Chaco Canyon Kiva in New Mexico or many Hopewell and Fort Ancient Earthworks in Ohio, that commemorated these days.  The plaza has been designed to allow the rays of the sun to fall upon a special central point on the first day of each of the four seasons.       


01. THe Pleiades

 Image by Brad Hoehne

Image by Brad Hoehne

Perhaps you catch it out of the corner of your eye on a clear dark night. Then, you stare at it and it seems to disappear. This little star cluster, the Pleiades, look different depending on how we look at it.

Rising in the east on fall evenings, this star cluster seems, to most folks, to have six or seven stars (depending on how good the eyesight of the person doing the looking.)

Look askance (not directly at it), however, and it may grow in brightness. This is because the center of our retina (the lining of cells in our eye that sense light) is not the most light sensitive at the middle of our vision. A bit away from the middle of our view, in our slight peripheral vision, our eyes gather light very well.

When astronomers avoid looking directly at an object to see it better, it’s called using averted vision. Try it!

02. The Winter Solstice

 Image by Brad Hoehne

Image by Brad Hoehne

On the Friday, December 21, the sun reaches its southernmost point in the celestial sphere- a time called the winter solstice.

That is the shortest day, and longest night of the year. (However, for complicated reasons having to do with the elliptical orbit of the Earth about the sun, it is not the day of the earliest sunset. That day is December 8.)

If, by chance, the skies are clear, we will see the sun rise and then set through the winter solstice gaps in our Plaza. Perhaps, like many civilizations before us, we will use the slow return of the sun to celebrate.

03. Andromeda up high

 Image by Brad Hoehne

Image by Brad Hoehne

High overhead on fall evenings is the most distant object you can (easily) see with the naked eye: The Andromeda Galaxy.

Looking like a blurry grain of rice in the constellation andromeda, the photons of light you see when you catch a glimpse of this, left for Earth at time when the height of proto-human technology was banging two rocks together to form a sharp edge. (More precisely: over 2.5 million years ago.)

If you have a pair of binoculars, this distant island universe, larger than our own Milky-Way, looks great in binoculars.

04. December: A bright comet?

 Comet C/2012 K1 Panstarrs, Joe Renzetti

Comet C/2012 K1 Panstarrs, Joe Renzetti

Comets are notoriously fickle, and any prediction of brightness or behavior represents nothing more than a “best guess.” However, with that caveat, there may be a moderately bright comet visible in the skies during the first few weeks of December.

Comet Wirtanen is not a large comet, nor is it a new comet, but it will be passing by Earth exceptionally on December 16. If all goes well, and skies are clear and dark, the comet might be visible as a faint fuzzball to the naked eye.

Where do you look? The comet will be passing very near the Pleiades that week. If you’re a capable astro-photographer, it might make a great photo-op.

We thank our sponsors for our grand opening- which took place on June 21!

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Our other sponsors

The John Glenn Astronomy Park is proud to promote Astrotours.   

Discover the ancient skies of Atacama with astrophysicist Paul Matt Sutter. Explore alien terrain by day and marvel at our universe at night. Reflect on it all while staying at a luxurious resort. An experience that will change you forever.

Astrotours will make a donation to JGAP for every Adventure booked through this link.  


“The greatest thing we can do is inspire young minds...”

- John Glenn

 John Glenn's offical portait prior to his 1998 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. NASA

John Glenn's offical portait prior to his 1998 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. NASA


About John Glenn

John Glenn was a decorated Military Pilot, a US Senator, and, most famously, the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth.

John Glenn was born in 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio and was raised in the small town of New Concord, home of Muskingum University where he attended college.   He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps soon after the US entered World War II.   He was a highly decorated pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War, as well, and few over 90 missions. 

After the war, he became a test pilot and developed a reputation as an outstanding aviator.  On July 16, 1957, in a mission dubbed “Project Bullet”, Glenn set the nation’s transcontinental flight speed record.  It was this experience that the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration cited when choosing him as one of the Mercury 7, the first American Astronauts.   During the Korean War, Glenn would fly combat missions with Red Sox great Ted Williams.

On February 20, 1962, Glenn was launched into space atop a Mercury  Atlas rocket, a vehicle that had experienced several catastrophic failures prior to this mission, and orbited the earth three times during a mission that lasted 4 hours and 55 minutes.  Towards the end of the flight, a failure in the automatic-control system of his Mercury Capsule, Friendship 7, required him to take the controls and fly manually.  This was the first time this had been done.   The landing was successful, and Glenn returned a national hero. On March 1, 1962, Glenn was welcomed home by millions at a ticker tape parade in his honor in New York City.

After retiring from NASA, Glenn entered and made three attempts to run for the US Senate- succeeding on his third try.   During his senate career he was considered an expert in science and technology and on military matters.   Glenn’s advocacy for the reduction of nuclear weapons culminated in the passage of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978, which was signed into law by President Carter. In 1984, Glenn sought the Democratic Party’s Presidential Nomination.  

Glenn served in the Senate until his retirement in December 1998.    That same year, it was announced that he would be returning to space on board the space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-95 crew.   Serving as Payload Specialist, Glenn began his second flight on October 29, 1998, making him the oldest person to fly in space.

In 2015 John Glenn gave his permission to use his name on the Observatory Park project being planned by the Friends of the Hocking Hills. 

Glenn died on December 8, 2016 at the OSU Wexner Medical Center.   

We hope to see his legacy of exploration and inspiration continue!