97-year-old monk’s invention still helps amateur astronomers see the stars

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Astronomer and inventor John Dobson.

For amateur astronomers, John Dobson is a cosmic treasure. This is the inventive mind who gave us the Dobsonian Telescope that has introduced so many people to the wonders of the universe from their backyards or city sidewalks. Southern California Public Radio recently did a wonderful retrospective on Dobson and his colleagues who, like Dobson, are still going strong.

Forty minutes north of Los Angeles, along a dark mountain highway lies the “Valley of the Dobs,” A gathering of amateur astronomers who’ve built their own Dobsonian telescopes.

A species of telescope invented by a hippie monk named John Dobson, who jerry-rigged materials lying around his San Francisco monastery: A piece of ship porthole glass, some sand to grind it with, a cardboard tube fished out of a dumpster, to name a few. For about $100 in materials, you can make something that would otherwise cost you thousands.

Tim Elliott demonstrates its signature innovation, the Dobsonian’s swiveling base.

"Between these bases, there’s a long-play album...This one’s Tchaikovsky. And there’s three pieces of teflon that slide and make it swivel. We can’t make them without the old records," said Elliot.

This cult to the Dobsonian was spawned after Dobson got kicked out of his monastery for truancy. After perfecting his telescope, he couldn’t help sneaking out to share it with his neighborhood, which is an impulse that seems to possess everyone who’s made one since.

It's A Way Of Life

Retired astrophysicist, Bob Alborzian, has been out on the streets with his Dobsonian ever since he first built it in the late '60s. Plastered with magazine cut outs of the The Who, Les Paul, Bob Dylan and John F. Kennedy, he sees it as the perfect weapon against the ills of modern society.

"I try to preach to them that these objects you see live for billions and billions of years," said Alborzian. "We’re here now, gone now, not even a wink of an eye. Problem is, a lot of people take the universe and the nature for granted."

Read more here.


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