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Barely a week ago, Ohio threw open the doors to the John Glenn Astronomy Park, christened after the former astronaut and American icon.
Glenn’s four-acre namesake opened last week in Hocking Hills, about 40 miles southeast of Columbus, the Buckeye State’s capital. The 10,000 acres of surrounding forest is considered rare air for astronomy buffs, because of its lack of light pollution that makes it easier to get unusually clear night views of star-filled skies.
The former U.S. senator and Ohio native — the first American to orbit the earth—gave his blessing to the astronomy park shortly before his death in December 2016. CNBC recently got a look at some of the attractions inside the new park.
The astronomy park functions as a something of a love letter to both space and Glenn, who died at the age of 95 after an illustrious career. Glenn’s connection with space and the stars likely started when he was very young boy: A recent estate sale of items that belonged to Glenn as a child included a pillowcase embroidered with stars, revolving planets and spacecraft bearing the name “John” in blue letters.
The park opened to the public on June 21 – the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. It features an enclosed 540-square-foot observatory with a retractable roof, as well an 80-foot in diameter Solar Plaza. The low wall that encircles the plaza is notched to offer framed views of the sun on key days, and a standing sundial allows visitors to see the Sun’s movement.
A list of coming events at the venue will include meteor shower viewing parties, spring and fall equinox viewings, star parties and comet observations, among many others.
Camping isn’t permitted, but the Plaza area will be open to the public, for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The website tells visitors: “If you’ve got the stamina to stay up all night, there’s nothing to keep you from enjoying the sky all night long.”
Twelve high-power telescopes allow guests to see awe-inspiring views of stars, galaxies, the Moon and planets. Visitors are welcome to bring their own telescopes, although the park’s websites notes that “For some, the best stargazing is done with the binoculars we were born with – our eyes.”
In a statement marking the opening of the park, Karen Raymore, the Hocking Hills Tourism Association executive director said she was “thrilled to offer one more reason for travelers to visit the region, and a new way for them to experience a natural attraction that has long mesmerized all who visit us overnight.”
One of the special guests at the opening of the John Glenn Astronomy Park was Harrison Sheldon, a six-year-old space-obsessed Columbus boy known as “Astronaut Harrison.” He’s popular on Instagram for photos showing visiting places wearing an astronaut costume.
“I loved that I can tell time with the sun on the sundial and that I can see the sun through slots in the plaza, depending on what season it is,” said Harrison. “I can’t wait to come back on a clear night; I want to see the Milky Way, the stars and some planets through all those telescopes.”