Wednesday, January 15, 2014

John Dobson Dies at 98.

The sad news came late today - the passing of John Dobson at 98 years of age.  We go back a long ways, though not sharing a particularly close relationship...  I'm glad to know he recognized me when our paths occasionally crossed, not just one of the adoring throngs to rub elbows with him at appearances.  We first met 33+ years ago on my first trip to the Grand Canyon in June of 1980.  As a fresh-faced new hire at Kitt Peak, I ran into the little dynamo of a man leading that early version of the Grand Canyon Star Party.  I even stood in line for the better part of 45 minutes to look through a 24" telescope whose design now carries his name - a Dobsonian.  I'm not sure I'd ever gazed though one before, but not only was the telescope design unique, but also the idea of sharing the view of the universe to inspire the public.  He and his small band of companions spent their entire summers travelling to the western national parks because that is where the people and pristine skies crossed paths and he wanted to grab them by their lapels and make them look.  At left is that 24" I peered through, and at right, 20 years later, John makes Canyon visitors look at the sun.

About 10 years after our first meeting on another trip to the Canyon, I learned that no, he wasn't doing the star party any more, at least at the Canyon.  He had angered religious fundamentalists by saying in his twilight talk that "we are all evolved from pond scum", and he was "invited not to return".  Well, upon asking, with the Park's permission, I was allowed to restart the Grand Canyon Star Party, now in what, its 24th year.  After a few years, he returned to the event and reveled in his celebrity there.  Of course, giving the same slide show he gave 20 years before, I cringed when he firmly stated that "we're all evolved from pond scum"!  This time we weren't shut down...  That trip, in 2001, he was escorted by Jane Houston Jones, and documented in an article "Four Dobs and a Dobson" she wrote for the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers.  The pictures are taken from that trip and are courtesy of Jane.  In those versions of the star party, buddy Margie Williams (yes, the one with the house in Mexico!) was making buttons for us to wear and John was so proud to have one marked "founder"!

John has lead a most interesting life.  Do read his Wiki entry at left.  Arguably, the development and popularization of the large-diameter Dobsonian telescopes have had the biggest effect in amateur astronomy of the last 60 years!  While less-well-known, his advocacy of astronomy outreach has also had a large effect on the public, especially for us in Arizona who continue the annual Grand Canyon Star Party for a week every June.  While living a full and interesting life, it is still sad knowing that he is no longer with us advocating for everyone to LOOK UP!

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