Dobsonian Telescope Inventor Dies Aged 98

Star Gazing
Image Credit: Greg Rakozy

On January 15th, 2014, John Dobson, inventor of the inexpensive, simple to use Dobsonian telescope, passed away in Burbank,  California, aged 98.

In 1915, Dobson was born in Beijing, China, and after his parents moved to San Francisco in 1927, he later earned a masters degree in chemistry before in 1944 becoming a monk of the Ramakrishna Order at the Vedanta Society monastery in San Francisco. He then remained there for the next 23 years, and as one of the monks, explains:

“One of John’s responsibilities at the monastery was to reconcile astronomy with the teachings of Vedanta. That job led him to build telescopes on the side. He took to wheeling them around outside the monastery, fascinating the neighbors who would congregate around him.”

However, building telescopes was not part of the monastery’s curriculum and after eventually leaving the order in 1967, John Dobson co-founded amateur astronomy organization, San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers, whose aim was to popularize astronomy with the person on the street. As  is mentioned on

“We take telescopes TO the public – on street corners, public parks, in front of bookstores -wherever there are crowds of people.”

It was around this time that Dobson started teaching classes on how to build your own telescope, and his simple, low-cost form of reflecting telescope, known as the Dobsonian, became well known amongst stargazing enthusiasts. Since then, the portable, stable, and quick to set up telescope has been embraced by commercial manufacturers around the globe and Dobsonians still remain amongst the most popular telescopes on the market.

After the news of John Dobson’s passing, Bob King from astronomy website universetoday, wrote: “Dobson wanted everyone to share in the universe’s bounty, the better to appreciate our lives and our world. The next clear night tilt your head back, gaze up at the stars and imagine John up there smiling. What an incredible view he must have.”

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