Hocking Hills is Getting a Stellar Astronomy Park
Hocking Hills State Park, with its rock outcrops, cascading waterfalls, caves, gorges, large forestland and wildlife, attracts visitors from all over Ohio and nearby states. The park offers many options for appreciating the scenic views of our native forests in pristine condition, through hiking, biking, camping, bird watching, but one feature of the park that likely goes unnoticed is its dark skies.
For years Hocking Hills has been a destination for local astronomers, who received the Park's permission to stargaze at Conkle's Hollow. But it wasn’t until about ten years ago that The Friends of Hocking Hills State Park (FOHHSP) and the Columbus Astronomical Society (CAS) joined forces to improve the educational and recreational features in the park. Pat Quackenbush, a naturalist at the Park, introduced Clyde Gosnell and Omie Warner from FOHHSP to Brad Hoehne from CAS and the idea for the new John Glenn Astronomy Park was born. This new park will be a premier, new attraction for the area.
But why Hocking Hills?
- Infrastructure: Having cabins and a main lodge nearby, Hocking Hills State Park could host Star Parties, where amateur and professional astronomers alike gather to enjoy a few days of stargazing. These events attract visitors and vendors from all over the country and feature guest speakers for lectures during daytime.
- Elevation: The site of the park was selected not only for the horizon's views, but also because it’s high enough to keep telescopes out of the fog that collects in lower ground.
Working together with her husband, Brad Hoehne, M+A Architects’ Lucia Hoehne created hand drawn sketches showcasing his vision for the park.
The John Glenn Astronomy Park and its surroundings will be a teaching site featuring the following:
- a wall with small openings that mark the sunrise and sunset on the days of the Summer and Winter Solstices and the Fall and Spring Equinoxes
- as the Sun rises and sets through the openings, it shines upon a sphere located at the center of the plaza
- the diameter of the plaza, the diameter of the central bench and the spherical focal point show the relationship in size between our Sun, the planet Jupiter and our Earth
- the central sphere has one more function: when aligned with the top of a pole nearby, they together point the observer towards the North Celestial Pole, the point around which the entire sky rotates
Sundials of different kinds, large or small, can be placed on the plaza—and an analemmatic sundial could be embedded onto the plaza, using the pole as its needle. A more traditional gnomonic sundial with a plate and a needle sits outside the walls. An interactive sundial, where a person's shadow marks the hours on stones embedded on the ground are located at the south.
Another feature is a celestial fountain, made out of stone and showing the constellations. The stone sphere floats on water, so children can make it move and learn about the sky. Benches for the public would allow for day and night lectures. The fields towards the south could host star parties and could be used, at any time, for people and telescopes to gather and stargaze.
The outer wall closer to the parking lot not only carries the Park's signage, but also shields the plaza from car lights, creating a vestibule and transition between the spaces.
The observatory has a sliding roof that runs over an office space. The main room will house a large telescope to view faint objects, such as planetary nebulas, globular clusters and galaxies. A second telescope will be linked to an automated system inside the office, making it useful for astrophotography, as well as for handicapped access to its view through the computer screen.
Housed in the building would be a small solar telescope that can be taken into the plaza and used to safely show the public our Sun's amazing features: its prominences, solar flares and sun spots.
Observatories have to be unconditioned to allow the optics of the telescopes inside to remain at ambient air temperature. Otherwise, the heat from the warm building itself, and the warm telescope optics, would create a shimmering effect that would blur the views. As some of the best times to observe are during Winter time, the office space is also a "warm" room, to allow respite from colder temperatures.
Fundraising Kicking into High Gear
On September 29th, 2016, a celebration event took place at the project site. Julieann Burroughs, current president of FOHHSP introduced board members and thanked volunteers for the support they have received throughout the years. Clyde Gosnell, FOHHSP board member and John Glenn Astronomy Park chair, in partnership with his wife Omie Warner, shared the process that took a dream from a conceptual idea to what is now turning into reality. Brad and Lucia Hoehne presented an outline of the project that detailed its inspiration and its evolution from conceptual design to construction drawings. Other speakers of the evening included Fred Shimp, ODNR's assistant director, Cara Brooks and Holly Shelton with the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, George Ebert, Astronomy Instructor at the Ohio University. All expressed their enthusiasm and support for the project.
The Hocking Hills Tourism Association pledged their support and presented the first installment of a $25,000 commitment to the project. To date, over $800,000 has been raised. With a fundraising goal of $1.2 million, FOHHSP is confident that construction will break ground by spring of 2017.
To donate, visit friendsofhockinghills.org
by LUCIA HOEHNE
Originally achieving her architectural license in Brazil, Lucia's skills and knowledge are as diverse as they are expansive.