A private group event will host just your specific group without any other visitors. If your group has specific interests about astronomy we can address those goals. Otherwise, we have a general orientation and observation program that we present. You may request a private group event by filling out the form below, asking for a specific date and time. Once we receive your request we will check our schedule and let you know if that date is available. Once we know your details we can lock in your event. Your group can be up to 50 people or as small as one. Examples of groups have been families, Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups, school groups, business groups, travel groups, even couples on a date. One time Ashton became the site for a marriage proposal, and "yes" was the answer. Usually visits are to see the night sky, but we have done daytime events also, for daycare groups for example. We do charge a modest fee ($50) for private group events, payable at the time of the visit.
Anyone can attend a free Saturday Public Night, including groups. Seating in the classroom is on a first-come / first-served basis, so arrive 15 minutes early to have the best chance to be seated together if that is desired. There is no special treatment for groups on a Public Night. Everyone is together and takes turns in the domes with all the other visitors. If your group is larger we suggest you let us know a week ahead of time so we can have adequate volunteers to host.
Once we confirm your date is available, we need to know more about the number of attendees, ages, and interests. We need to set a start time, which is normally about one hour before sunset. That of course varies with the season, so will depend on your specific date. A normal visit begins with a one hour classroom orientation focused on what's in the night sky and how to see it. Stargazing follows that in our two domes using our large telescopes as sky conditions allow. If cloudy, we will still tour and demonstrate operation. Allow at least two hours for a visit, but our volunteers will be happy to stay as late as your members want to stay. The classroom is climate controlled, but the domes must operate in ambient temperatures, so dress appropriately for the time you are in the domes. Bottled water is available in the observatory; restrooms are beside the parking lot. Ashton Observatory is located in the Ashton Wildwood County Park, about 20 miles northeast of Des Moines, which is operated by Jasper County. The park is open to the public at any time. A camp ground is also located in the park - contact Jasper County for camping arrangements.
Unfortunately the status of new COVID virus variants is becoming more concerning so we will again suspend regular hosting of public events. People are free to come to the park and grounds surrounding Ashton Observatory if they wish - it's a public park, but the Observatory will not be open.