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Sunday, July 21 2024 @ 09:08 pm EDT

Oh, To Be Like John


John Dobson has probably inspired more people to become amateur astronomers than any other single person in history. As a chemist turned monk, he built his first telescope while at a California monastery. His first views of the moon changed his life, and in a very real way, the future of amateur astronomy.

Dobson would occasionally take his hand-made telescopes into San Francisco where he would set up to give people views of the moon and planets. This is how he came to call himself a "sidewalk astronomer".

John Dobson is renowned as a telescope maker. The design of his style of telescopes are based on a WWII gun mount, the base being able to turn left or right while the barrel, or tube, moved up or down. Along with surplus portholes from naval ships which he learned to grind and polish into a mirror, these telescopes offered large apertures for very little money. The design worked very well to give silky-smooth operation while staying in whatever position the operator put it. This style of telescope is now called a Dobsonian in honor of John's exceptionally impressive invention.

But John might be better known throughout history as one who's passion was to take astronomy to the masses. His days as a sidewalk astronomer together with his treks each summer to state parks all over the western states were meant to do one thing, offer the public a chance to see the universe through a telescope. Once featured on the PBS series "The Astronomers", Dobson said, "Now IF there were a million amateur astronomers with telescopes, and they were willing to let a few thousand people each look through their telescopes, there would be a chance for all of the people in this world who wanted to see, to see." That says it all. John Dobson would like nothing more than for all 6+ billion of us to see the universe and experience its wonder and beauty.

Whether our telescopes are large or small, all who look to the skies and wonder are astronomers. We marvel at the things we see, and each in our own way struggle to understand as best we can. Like John, many of us are driven to impart just a tiny fraction of what we have learned to anyone who asks. If enough of us try, someday the rest of the world may know our little secret. That the universe can be understood, and an exquisite joy to experience first hand.

In the words of Albert Einstein, "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe, is that it is comprehensible."
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