Ashton Observatory is about a 20 minute drive northeast of Des Moines. Follow US 65 / IA 330 highway northeast from Des Moines and take Exit 98 from that. Drive east a short distance on county road F17, then turn south on the first road, W 122nd Street N, and the entrance to Ashton Wildwood County Park will soon be on your right. The Observatory is nestled within the beauty of the park. Night skies are remarkably dark at the Observatory compared to the nearby metropolitan light pollution. From Ashton the Milky Way can be seen on clear nights without a bright Moon - something impossible from urban locations. The observatory has two domes, one housing a 16 inch diameter f/5 Newtonian reflector telescope, and the other has a 14 inch diameter Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, f/10. Mounts for both are computerized to track selected targets in the night sky.
In our east dome is a 14 inch diameter Schmidt-Cassegrain, f/10 telescope. The mount is a computer controlled German equatorial design, . At the touch of a button it will point to and track any of thousands of targets in its database.
The west dome houses a 16 Newtonian reflector, f/6. Its mount is a fork design equatorial design. Its computer will also let the operator point to any of thousands of targets in its database, and then will track the movement of the sky as time passes.
Our climate-controlled classroom is equipped with the latest multimedia equipment and can seat 60 visitors. One hour presentations are offered here on Saturday Public Nights as well as used to provide orientation programs for private groups visits. Bottled water is available, but restrooms are outside beside the Observatory parking lot.
Our south-facing front yard has concrete pads and power outlets that DMAS members and visitors can use for their own telescopes. During Saturday Public Nights your views are not limited to the two large diameter telescopes in our domes, but all the scopes in the yard. Since the park is public access, the front yard is available to anyone at any time.
In 2019 Jasper County commissioned two local artists to create this mural depicting the night sky as visible that summer over Ashton Observatory. Visible in sky and mural are planets Jupiter and Saturn, and constellations Scorpio and Sagittarius. And, YES, it glows in the dark! It's a beauty on the north side of Ashton.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled our public hosting activities in 2021 in order to keep everyone safe, our normal events would include Saturday Public Nights every Saturday from April through October. We would also schedule private group events as requested. Sometimes we are invited to present programs at places like libraries, the Science Center of Iowa, and farmers markets, etc.