Ashton Observatory is about a 20 minute drive northeast of Des Moines, near the intersection of Iowa highway 330 and county road F17. The site is nestled within the beauty of Ashton-Wildwood County Park and has superior viewing avenues in all directions. The observatory has two domes, one housing a 16 inch f/5 Newtonian style telescope, and the other has a research-grade 16 inch Meade LX200 GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, f/10.
Built in 1983, Ashton Observatory has served thousands of visitors from central Iowa, the Midwest, and around the world. On a single night in 1986, during the observations of Halley's Comet, 1200 guests were treated to a spectacular show! In April of 1994, 60 visitors were privileged to observe the Aurora Borealis dance across the northern horizon, a sight not uncommon at Ashton-Wildwood Park. In 1996 society members maintained a constant vigil watching the incredible close fly-by of Comet Hyakutake, and during the spectacular Comet Hale Bopp passage in 1997, more than 1500 central Iowans were able to see the comet's fascinating nucleus at the observatory. In 2003 several hundred visitors came to get a look at Mars on its closest pass by Earth.
The Ashton Observatory building was a collaborative effort between Jasper County and The Des Moines Astronomical Society, Inc.. The original design included a small classroom between the two domes to provide a place for presenting public lectures as well as a meeting room for club members and Jasper County conservation programs.
In 2002 a full-size (30x30 feet) classroom was added to the observatory, made possible by financial support from the Fred Maytag Family Foundation, the Jasper County Conservation Board, DMAS members, and public/visitor donations. The new classroom doubled the capacity of the facility and is an exciting atmosphere for presenting lectures and workshops, such as the weekly Public Night events that DMAS offers each Saturday from April through October.