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John Dobson - Sidewalk Astronomer, Dobsonian Mount Inventor and Teacher

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John Dobson - Sidewalk Astronomer, Dobsonian Mount Inventor and Teacher


In the 1990’s we had the privilege to have John Dobson as a short term tutor in astronomy. He came to Dallas, to teach his cosmology class and help a small group of us build telescopes.  We named our 10” dobsonian telescope Venus de Milo as she had no arms.  But she came at a price several weeks of grinding under John’s watchful eyes and his final eyeball check to make sure the mirror was correctly figured after all the grits and polish, once she was aluminized, we got down to the business of visual astronomy.

While all the mechanical construction, grinding, and fitment occurred, John was of course teaching us his views of the cosmos.  A universe that collapses back on itself, planets screaming through extra-solar solar systems and such.  He enjoyed hiking at 83 and would tell us stories of the Vedanta monastery, his MS work in chemistry, his aquapithecus view of human Evolution and even his parenting strategies with his son.  If his son tripped on a root and was crying on the ground, he would gently prod him to go back and look at the reason why he tripped and understand that looking our for roots, etc. would be a good idea for the future, and to learn from your mistakes.

After an early foray into astronomy in the 1990’s including goto mounts, and digital imaging and stacking of images, my work brought me away for a decade or two, to the Middle East to work in Abu Dhabi, UAE and Doha, Qatar.  Much to my amazement the Emiraties and Qataries were very fond of astronomy as it is crucial to their religious views, and the calculation of the start of Ramadan, so I still had the itch.  Finally, in 2016, I was able to retire from my 35 year profession in geology, and return to my favorite subjects, planetology and ancient history.  So after visiting some of the ancient Celtic (Stonehenge, Carnac), Hittite (Hattusha), Native American (Calendar Hill), and such ancient observatories I am back at it.  This time with a 6-1/2 inch triplet mounted on a cgx, currently shooting planets and such with Sony a7s mounted at prime focus and on Barlows, but with an eye toward more imaging.  And of course dreaming of my own observatory somewhere out in West Texas.  For now, my old haunt the “Texas Star Party” and Okie-Tx star parties are my main venues of celestial wonder, with my wife at my side (luckily she is an avid birder, and likes these remote sites).  And recently I have added an Obsession 18uc dobsonian with tremendous light grabbing power.  It has motor drives, encoders and Argo Navis to direct the ServoCat system. I really wonder what John would have thought about the advancements recent and current designers have made to his classic telescope design.  I think he would approve of the sharing of these super scopes to others that I have witnessed at my favorite star parties when someone shouts out hey I have the Helix nebula I view if anyone wants to see it. And so it continues….


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