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“Everyone needs to see this” a giant in the astronomical community passes

John Dobson with his dobsonian telescope
John Dobson with his dobsonian telescopeMirea Pteancu

January 15, 2014 was a sad day for the amateur astronomy community. John Dobson passed away at age 98. His simple telescope design “the dobsonian” revolutionized amateur astronomy. He made large telescopes not only very affordable but easy to use. That was just one of John’s contributions.

When John completed his first telescope, which is story by itself, he first looked at Moon and remarked “Everyone needs to see this!” and so started the legend. He would set up his telescope on a street corner in San Francisco and invite passersby to look through it. He later founded the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers which not only made telescopes available on the streets of San Francisco but to several west coast national parks. Just how many people have looked through his telescopes over years at Yosemite’s Glacier Point, Crater Lake and other locations is estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Still far short of John’s goal of having everyone living on the planet (six plus billion) to look through a telescope.

If one word were to describe John it would be “unconventional”. He was born in China, graduated from college as a chemist, and was among all things a monk. Here is a short biography. If you read it you will crack a smile or even laugh. He appeared several times on Johnny Carson, who was also an amateur astronomer, and PBS’s “the Astronomers”. Here is a video of John doing his thing.

March 8, 2014 is this year’s International Sidewalk Astronomy Night. It will be dedicated to John’s memory. Join members of the Denver Astronomical Society and help celebrate John’s life by carrying on his mission by looking through one of the many telescopes available at the Chamberlin Observatory Open House. Yes, a good number of them will be dobsonians. And you may just see a ghost of an old man sitting next to a telescope. No worries it’s John saying “You got to see this”.

Wishing you clear skies