January 15, 2014 9:34 pm

In Memoriam: John Dobson (1915 – 2014)

Photo of John Dobson and Elliot Severn in front of a Dobsonian telescope.

John Dobson and my son, Elliot Severn, inspecting a Dobsonian telescope. The two of them would later build a telescope together, and of course, Elliot became a space photographer and StarTalk volunteer. Credit: Stacey David Severn.

This post comes from Stacey Severn, our Social Media Coordinator and an amateur astronomer who has been building the StarTalk Radio Cosmic Community of academic and scientific organizations, programming groups, schools and astronomy clubs that will help promote excitement and interest in STEM education. As a member of the Boothe Memorial Astronomical Society in Stratford CT, Stacey had the opportunity to get to know John Dobson, the founder of the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers and the developer of the Dobsonian mount, an inexpensive, easy-to-build telescope mount that revolutionized amateur astronomy, who passed away earlier today.


To our StarTalk Cosmic Community members,

The following announcement appeared on the website of the Sidewalk Astronomers, the public service amateur astronomy association John founded.

It is with heavy hearts that we must report the passing of John Dobson. He died peacefully this morning, Wednesday, January 15th, in Burbank, California. He was 98 years old. He leaves behind a son, numerous close friends, and fans and admirers worldwide.

On March 8th, in honor of John, this year’s ISAN (International Sidewalk Astronomy Night) will be dedicated to his memory. 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.

John Dobson (1915 - 2014)

John Dobson (1915 – 2014) Credit: Stacey David Severn.

I also wanted to share with you something I’ve previously written about John, to help explain why John was so important to us all:

In the 1950s, Sputnik was all the rage and sending people into space to discover what surrounds the earth became humankind’s passion. The public was quickly swept up in wonder, and fueling a growing thirst to know more about what lay beyond our Earth’s horizon, amateur astronomy clubs quickly gained popularity, thriving through the Mercury, Gemini, and early Apollo programs,

But by the time the Shuttle program came around, space travel was taken for granted, and the skies were largely ignored by people outside the scientific community.

Enter John Dobson, a former monk and founder of the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. In the 1960s, John designed an inexpensive, easy-to-build telescope mount that revolutionized amateur astronomy. He began a movement to bring telescopes out into the public, to street corners, National parks – anywhere there were people – and show them the heavens. Dobson regularly made visits to Connecticut and spent time with members of our local clubs teaching, building telescopes, taking them out to the streets, and had been a fixture at the Connecticut Star Party (sponsored by ASNH) for many years.

At a time when science education is really missing the mark, members of our local astronomy groups and sidewalk astronomers everywhere continue to follow John Dobson’s lead, spending a great deal of time doing public educational outreach. This involves regular observing at area parks and beaches, along with meetings and observing nights at our local observatories.

Please remember John when you look up to the sky!


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