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Ohio honors late space icon and native son John Glenn with an astronomy park—here's a look inside

Key Points
  • Ohio's new John Glenn Astronomy Park, christened after the late astronaut and senator, opened on June 21.
  • The four acre venue is southeast of Columbus, is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and features world-class stargazing.
Entry sign for John Glenn Astronomy Park 
Source: Brad Hoehne | John Glenn Astronomy Park

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.

Southeast Ohio’s Hocking Hills is one of the rare dark sky regions in the U.S.
Source: Aaron Rigsby

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.

Salute to an Ohio hero
Astronaut John Glenn
Source: NASA

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.

Solar Plaza
Source: Brad Hoehne | John Glenn Astronomy Park

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.

'All Night Long'
Red lighting on the plaza ensures clear viewing for nighttime programs. 
Source: John Glenn Astronomy Park

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.”

World class stargazing
World class stargazing now possible in Ohio at the John Glenn Astronomy Park
Source: Aaron Rigsby

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.”

'I want to see the Milky Way'
6-year old Harrison Sheldon, AKA Astronaut Harrison, checks out the Constellation Leo wall at the new John Glenn Astronomy Park. 
Source: Aaron Sheldon

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.”

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