About the Sidewalk Astronomers
Someone asked about the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. Let's start with
the problem. The problem is that there are now several billion
primates, people much like ourselves, living and dying on this watery planet. And many of them are anxious to see and understand
what the universe as a whole is all about. The difficulty is that from the surface
of this planet we cannot see the universe at large in the
because the atmosphere is lit up by the Sun, and even at night we can see very little without telescopes. In an effort to
difficulty, the Sidewalk Astronomers have built a large
number of portable astronomical telescopes, up to twenty-four inches in aperture, which
they set up where they can for public use. They set them up in the cities so that people can see the
planets and the Moon, and they run them
through the national parks,
Indian reservations, and other such places away from city lights, so that people can see much deeper into the far
reaches of space. But they run them with talks and slide shows to help people understand.
"What is the
good of a book without pictures?" And what is the good of trying to understand the universe without seeing it? That is
of the problems which has plagued philosophy for thousands of
years. Who ever knew that the universe was made of hydrogen gas, falling together
by gravity to galaxies and stars? And what is gravity? And who ever knew that what we see as matter is just potential
energy, five hundred
atom bombs per pound? And that that energy itself
is as yet unexplained? Who ever knew? Don't we owe it to all the kids who will be the future
philosophers and physicists to let them see this thing (the universe) which is up for so much discussion?
At least let's help them see it, and
do what we can to help them
Information is the thing. People need information. They need to know how this universe got here, and how they got
mixed up in this thing.
As James Burke says, "If you don't know
how you got somewhere, you don't know where you are". That is why the Sidewalk Astronomers, and our compatriots
around the world, run our telescopes around for public use, as far as our funds permit.
And that is why some of us teach telescopemaking
classes, so that
there will be more telescopes available, in the hope that all may see. And in order to help people understand, we convey
information to the viewers at the eyepiece, and give talks and slide shows in libraries,
schools, Indian reservations and in city, state and
and even abroad. And that is why one of us teaches classes in "Astronomy for Children Under Eighty".
John L. Dobson
October 10th 1987
San Francisco, CA 94115