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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.
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. What's up in the Sky Now
The most glorious and recognizable constellation in the winter sky is that of Orion, the hunter.
Orion is easily recognized as a giant rectangle rising in the southeast on early winter evenings. Across its middle are three bright stars which form the Belt of the great mythical Hunter.
Orion is the home of one of the most spectacular objects in the night sky, M42, the Great Orion Nebula.
Visible to the naked eye as the middle star in Orion's "Sword" (which hangs from the belt) M42 appears as a ghostly "star" to the unaided eye.
In binoculars, it blooms into a small, flower-shaped nebula.
In telescopes, under dark skies, the flower grows into a ghostly lily, with quartet of bright stars at its heart.
These hot, young stars have just emerged from a great cloud of gas and dust in which they formed.
02. It Works!
The John Glenn Astronomy Park is under construction.
The walls around the plaza have been poured, stone has been placed, the tiles have been set, and measurements have been made to align he park with the heavens.
On December 21, 2017, a group of folks made a trip to the JGAP site to watch the sun set through the winter Solstice gap in our Plaza's walls.
It was wonderful to see that, after all our plans, the Plaza and the heavens are properly aligned.
The sliding-roof observatory is also making progress.
Click here for a video tour of the site, made on December 14.
Watch this space for more updates.!
03. A planetary parade: March 8
If you’ve been a skywatcher for a long time, you’re probably aware that planetary alignments, which the popular media makes such a fuss over, are, in fact, quite normal. Indeed, they are to be expected.
As the great cloud of gas and dust that formed our solar condensed, the tiny bit of angular momentum that it contained gradually flattened it into a disk.
The planets formed from that disk. Four and half billion years later the planets travel in circuits that bear witness to the shape and orientation of that disk.
We on Earth also travel along inside that long gone disk. It is not surprising, therefore, that the planets we see in the night sky often seem “line up” like vehicles on the same roadway.
Ancient Greek skywatchers- who developed or enriched many of the stories that came to be associated with our modern, western constellations- recognized that the wandering stars, which they called the “planets” (“wanderers), travelled along same celestial roadway. They paid special attention to the band of constellations that this roadway passed through.
Because these constellations represented (mostly) animals they called it the zōidiakòs kýklos- which translates, roughly, into: “the circle of little animals.” We call it the zodiac.
Early this March, there will be three planets lining up in the pre-dawn sky in the zodaical constellations of scorpius and Sagittairus. From left to right, they will be Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter. On the morning of the 8th, a waning crescent moon will join the parade.
The lineup will not be surprising, catastrophic, rare or astronomically meaningful.
But it will be beautiful. - ed.
04. 2018: The Year of Mars!
2018 will be, for amateur astronomers at least, "The Year of Mars!" as the Red Planet will put on its best show since 2003.
The best views will be in late July and Early August, 2018. The John Glenn Astronomy Park will be sharing views of this tiny world through its telescopes.
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
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. 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.
On February 20, 1962, Glenn was launched into space atop an early 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 to a hero's welcome.
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. He was instrumental in the creation of programs that dealt with environmental and safety issues at nuclear facilities.
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!