Tuesday, March 2, 2010

John Dobson and Sidewalk Astronomy

Homemade Dobsonian Telescope

When I was telling you about the star party a couple of weeks ago at Leasburg State Park (The Intrepid Naturalists Meet the Stars), I mentioned that thanks to a monk, we were able to observe the night skies through a type of telescope that we could learn to make ourselves.

The telescope that was provided at the star party was a Dobsonian telescope, as invented by John Dobson. Dobson has been called one of the most influential figures in astronomy over the last fifty years because of his belief that everyone should be able to have access to the tools that make backyard astronomy possible.

John Dobson earned a degree in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1943, and joined the Vedanta Monastery in San Francisco in 1944. As he became more and more interested in astronomy, he began to work on making his own telescopes from recycled materials such as discarded porthole glass, old hose reels, and the bottoms of gallon jugs. Once he had seen the wonders of the heavens through his scopes, he thought that everyone else needed the chance to see the same thing. And so he began his life in public astronomy, taking his telescope out onto street corners for all to look through; teaching classes in observation and telescope-making; and starting the public-service organization, The San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. To read more about his life, see The Sidewalk Astronomers.

Here is a video of Dobson, talking about his life in public astronomy.

See the sidewalk astronomer in action, introducing people to the moon at high-power:

The Dobsonian telescope that we used at Leasburg was handmade by our star party host, Nils Allen. He belongs to The Astronomical Society of Las Cruces, which holds monthly informational meetings, as well as a couple of telescope-making workshops each year taught by Mr. Allen. There is contact information on this [somewhat-outdated] page. Even though the club hasn't been updating the workshop page, it will still get you in touch with the people who schedule the workshops.


Kate said...

What a fascinating man. The human mind is so imaginative and I wish that we held the secret that would allow us to release all this creativity in all human beings!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I love Astronomy, as do our kids. This is one of the reasons we moved here away from the city, so we could view the night skies clearer. Our good friends invite us over to hang out in their handmade observatory and it's such a thrill to look through their own huge telescope to see the wonders of the universe.
I'll have to asked them if their's is modeled after the Dobsonian style of telescope.

Thanks for sharing,