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Stargazer John Dobson passes away

Stargazer John Dobson passes away

JOHN Dobson, who was credited with helping hundreds of thousands of people from across the world become amateur astronomers, has passed away in the United States. He was 98.

Mr. Dobson developed the first high-powered portable telescope which amateurs could build inexpensively. Surprising, he never made any money from what has become known as the Dobsonian Telescope after refusing to take out a patent on the design or even copyright the name. 

Born in Peking in 1915, where his parents were Methodist missionaries, Mr. Dobson eventually settled with his family in San Francisco. He gained a chemistry degree at the University of California, Berkeley, before entering the Ramakrishna monastery in Sacramento.

During his 23 years in the monastery, the young Dobson was assigned the task of reconciling modern physics with ancient Hindu scripture. As part of this task he decided to spend time studying the stars. Not having any money to purchase a telescope, Mr. Dobson decided to build his own.

Basing the design of his telescope on the one developed by Newton in the 1600s, Mr. Dobson used cheap materials such as cardboard, plywood and second-hand glass in the construction. The telescope proved very effective. Commercial manufacturers would later produce kits based on the design.

In 1967, Mr. Dobson was asked to leave the Ramakrishna monastery after the abbot became annoyed by the amount of time he was spending away from the order.

With only $50, Mr. Dobson decided to devote his life to bringing the wonders of the celestial universe to attention of as many people as possible. He spent long periods travelling across the U.S. inviting people to look at the stars through a larger version of his telescope which he had installed on an old school bus.

He lectured widely and wrote a number of books, including the bestseller Astronomy for Children Under 80. The Sidewalk Astronomers club which he co-founded now has chapters across the world. He also featured in a documentary A Sidewalk Astronomer (2005), see below.

News of Mr. Dobson’s passing was released by Sidewalk Astronomers. The organisation announced that its International Sidewalk Astronomy Night on March 8 will be dedicated to his memory. In a statement the club said it hoped: “Amateur astronomers around the globe can join in and celebrate John’s life and continue to carry the torch that he lit back in 1968 when he co-founded the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers”.

To view the trailer for A Sidewalk Astronomer, click here.

To see an excerpt from an interview Mr. Dobson gave to Astronomers Without Borders, click here.

To see a discussion featuring Mr. Dobson , click here.

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