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John Dobson of telescope fame dies at 98

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John Dobson, the man who single-handedly revolutionized the hobby of amateur astronomy by showing the world that top-notch gear need not coast a fortune, has died at age 98. His death was announced on the website of the Sidewalk Astronomers, a public outreach group that Dobson also co-founded in 1968.

On the website, there was a message that said, among other things: “it is with heavy hearts that we must report the passing of John Dobson. He died peacefully this morning, Wednesday, January 15th, in Burbank, California. He was 98 years old. He leaves behind a son, numerous close friends, and fans and admirers worldwide.”

Dobson's interest in astronomy began in the 1950s (he was a late bloomer) after he built a small telescope from parts bought at a junk store. Having a knack for optics but wanting something bigger, Dobson got a piece of porthole glass, which he then proceeded to grind into a 12” telescope mirror. After having seen the wonders o the universe with is new creation, Dobson became an astronomical evangelist, taking his scopes all around the country and letting passers-by take in the viewfor themselves.

However, where Dobson's real legacy will lie is with his design philosophy.

Before Dobson, most amateur astronomical telescopes were small (as in 60mm-ish) refractors or medium-sized (6-inches or so) reflectors, both of which were commonly made of heavy metal tubes and mounted on even heavier (and user-unfriendly to a beginner) equatorial mounts. Dobson's philosophy: good reflective optics in a simple package on a simple, easy to use mount, all made of affordable materials. The result: a large aperture reflector on a lazy susan-type mount.

At the time, many were skeptical of the design, but that all changed in 1981 when Coulter Optical started making 13.1 and 17.5-inch telescopes based on Dobson's design. Since then, these types of telescopes have become known as “Dobsonians” and are among the most popular (and certainly most affordable per inch of aperture) on the market.

Needless to say, John Dobson was perhaps the most influential figure in 20th century amateur astronomy and a man whose legacy will live on so long as humans look to the stars..

2014's International Sidewalk Astronomy Night, set to take place March 8, will be dedicated in Dobson's memory.

For more info:
The Sidewalk Astronomers

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