Pied Piper of Astronomy's to
present program: John Dobson to be honored by Crater Lake
Institute for public service
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
July 15, 2004
By LEE JUILLERAT
John Dobson speaks to a group of people about telescope
construction. Dobson will present a program at the Fort
Klamath Museum July 30 at 8 p.m.
John Dobson, who's been called the
"Pied Piper of Astronomy," "Star Monk" and the "MacGyver of
Astronomy," will received the 2004 Crater Lake Institute Award
for Excellence in Public Service.
Institute director Ron Mastrogiuseppe said Dobson is being
honored "for inspiring dreams about places beyond earth through
pioneering sidewalk astronomy in our national parks and forest,
where curiosity and dark skies meet."
"He is arguably the most influential person in amateur astronomy
in the last 30 years," Mastrogiuseppe said of Dobson. "He has
almost single-handedly revolutionized backyard astronomy by
bringing it out to the street, making it accessible for anyone
who has ever looked up in wonder, and asked 'Why?' "
As part of his Southern Oregon visit, Dobson will give a program
at the Fort Klamath Museum 8 p.m. Friday, July 30. People
attending are encouraged to bring their telescopes.
Owen Hoffman, a former Crater Lake ranger who is on the
Institute's board of directors, said Dobson "often mentioned his
visits to Crater Lake National Park and the joy of introducing
those who were curious to stay out after dark to the wonders of
the night sky," and had fond memories of various park rangers.
Dobson, who was born in Peking,
China, Sept. 14, 1915, and moved with his family to San
Francisco in 1927, earned a degree in chemistry at the
University of California at Berkeley in 1943. He took
defense-related jobs until he joined the Vedanta Monastery in
San Francisco in 1944, becoming a monk of the Ramakrishna Order.
He spent the next 23 years in the monastery.
When he joined the Order, known for its intellectual rigor and
public service, he was given the assignment of reconciling the
teachings of religion with science.
Dobson wanted to see for himself what the universe looked like
so he built his first telescope in 1956, a 2-inch scope made
from a lens he bought in a junk store and an eyepiece from an
old pair of Zeiss binoculars.
He made his first mirror out of a marine-salvage 12-inch
porthole glass. When he looked at the third-quarter moon with
his finished telescope, he was surprised and deeply moved by
what he saw, planting a desire to share astronomy with others.
Dobson transferred to the Vedanta Monastery in Sacramento in
1958 and became seriously involved in telescope making. The
first Sacramento telescope was a 5-inch reflector with a mirror
made from the cut-out bottom of a discarded gallon jug.
A friend who wanted Dobson to make a larger telescope donated
salvaged portholes that were smuggled into the monastery in
fertilizer boxes. He screened his own sand for grinding and made
his own rouge out of garden supplies. The work was done without
attracting the attention of monks, some who thought public
astronomy was not an appropriate pursuit.
Because Dobson was a monk and had no money, he mounted the
mirrors using scrap materials. His telescopes were made from
discarded hose reels, lumber core cutouts from school house
doors and scrap wood - the origin of what has come to be known
as the "Dobsonian" mount.
Dobson's desire to make more and larger telescopes and give
people access to viewing the solar system put him in increasing
peril of expulsion by monastic authorities. Even so, he wheeled
his telescopes around the monastery's neighborhood until he was
removed from the monastery in 1967.
Dobson had friends who helped to keep him fed, clothed and
sheltered. He retrieved telescopes from Sacramento and set them
up on San Francisco streets on clear nights, which attracted
thousands of viewers. Eventually, he supported himself by
teaching classes in telescope making and astronomy.
In 1968, people who made telescopes under Dobson's guidance
started the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. By 1970, the
group had a 24-inch portable telescope.
The possibility of showing deep sky objects to large numbers of
people through very large telescopes led the group to national
parks and monuments, Native American reservations and elsewhere.
"Over the years, millions of people world-wide have looked
through Sidewalk Astronomers telescopes," Mastrogiuseppe said.
"John has helped to simplify the art of mirror making, enabling
thousands of kids and adults with no previous experience or
special training in optics to experience the joy of turning
slabs of glass into powerful eyes into the heavens with their