An astronomy park and observatory named for astronaut John Glenn is opening Thursday in Hocking Hills State Park, amid the summer solstice.
John Glenn Astronomy Park director Brad Hoehne says the park's goal of making space accessible to everyone is fitting to Glenn's legacy.
"This reflects his vision by giving people an chance to actually experience the universe first-hand," Hoehne says. "It's a way to inspire young minds to take up careers in the sciences."
But the park has also been a personal dream of Hoene’s.
“I wanted to create a place that allowed people to simply enjoy the night sky, relatively uncluttered by the light from civilization,” Hoehne says. “It gives them a chance to make a connection with the rest of the universe.”
Astrophysicist Paul Sutter told WOSU last year that Hocking Hills State Park is relatively free of light pollution, and is one of the best places in Ohio to see the night sky.
Activities will include sunset viewing, a sky diver and star and planet gazing through the park's powerful telescopes. Hoene says programs will be weather-dependent.
“You can’t actually view the universe through the clouds, so people should check that first,” he says. “But assuming it’s a nice clear night, we will either be looking at the moon and planets or pointing our giant telescope at distant galaxies and globular clusters. And you will see things that will knock your socks off.”
It’s not just the telescope that’s designed to inspire. Hoene says the park itself catches the rising and setting of the sun on the first day of the season, and the park’s plaza and benches are constructed to resemble the solar system. Visitors can also stand on a human-sized sun dial and use their body to tell the time.
John Glenn died in 2016 at age 95. He was the first American to orbit Earth and a longtime Democratic U.S. Senator in Ohio.