John Dobson: 1915-2013

Today I found out that John Dobson, inventor of sidewalk astronomy, of the mount that bears his name, had died at the age of 98. Miracle or tribute, the skies were clear (ish; it is the West Coast in January), so I dragged out Ranger, my 8" Dob. I haven't had it out since getting Neptune, the Meade LX10, and frankly it was a treat; simple to set up, easy to point, and quick to cool.

I took out the kids to look at Jupiter and the moon. We saw equatorial belts and Sinus Iridium, where Chang-E has landed. I told them the story of John Dobson: how he wanted to show people their universe and made his own telescope to do so; how he ground his own mirror from porthole windows and sand, and made the mount that bears his name. Up, down, spin around -- the simplest thing that could possibly work. How he took his scope to the sidewalks to show people stars, planets, galaxies -- the universe where they lived.

There are times when what I want and what the kids want are mismatched, and we bump heads. This was not one of those times, and they seemed genuinely interested. (I have to say, though, what they really liked was looking through the eyepieces and seeing everything upside down.) And when it was bedtime, we read "This Is Me And Where I Am", one of my favourite books. (They like it too.)

After they went to bed I sat outside on the porch, watching Europa's shadow transit and pass Jupiter. I saw the moon, Tycho and Copernicus, the bright craters spotting it everywhere. I saw the Orion Nebula; not well, because the clouds were rolling in, but well enough. Rest in peace, John Dobson.