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Inventor Enthralls Students

By Adriana M. Chavez
Published 2005-02-25 00:00:00
From The El Paso Times, Borderland Section

By all appearances, 89-year-old John Dobson is unassuming. His seemingly quiet demeanor and gray ponytail contrast with his life's accomplishments, and at first glance, many people may not believe that this man was born in Beijing, China, later became a monk and invented a telescope that made it easier for average people to discover the wonders of the universe.

Dobson spoke to a group of fifth-graders Thursday afternoon at the El Paso Independent School District's Gene Roddenberry Planetarium, leading many of them to take a different look at astronomy. "I thought it was cool," said Teica Ott, 11, a fifth-grader at Collins Elementary. "He's inventing telescopes for other people, not keeping them for himself."

After a virtual space tour, students were treated to a question-and-answer session with Dobson. At the end of the session, a small group of students was selected to take a close look at Dobson's invention, the Dobsonian telescope.

Dobson, who has never visited outer space, started making telescopes while living in San Francisco in the early 1950s, using whatever materials he could find. "He's nice and cool and friendly. He's very interesting," said Alina Garci­a, 11, a fifth-grader at Collins Elementary.

After Dobson made his first telescope, he was inspired to make user-friendly telescopes for the public, and to teach them how to make their own telescopes. "When I saw the quarter of the moon, I thought, 'Everyone else has to see this,' " Dobson said.

Dobson is also known for founding the Sidewalk Astronomers group in San Francisco. The group eventually became famous after late-night talk-show host Johnny Carson, himself an amateur astronomer, heard about them and invited Dobson to be a guest.

"All these people in the world who don't get to see where they were born, they need to see where they were born," Dobson said of his telescopes. "I wanted to see what the heck was going on here."

Dobson was in the area this week to visit with the Las Cruces Astronomy Club. John Peterson, the planetarium director, said he thought Dobson was supposed to leave town Thursday, but when he found out that the flight was actually scheduled for today, he asked Dobson to talk to the fifth-graders.