A Million Telescopes
From Jim McCullough
A MILLION TELESCOPES Dobson: IF THERE WERE A MILLION PEOPLE WITH TELESCOPES WILLING TO LET
A FEW THOUSAND OTHER PEOPLE LOOK THROUGH THEM, IT IS POSSIBLE THAT EVERYONE WHO WALKS THIS EARTH, WITH EYES TO SEE, MIGHT
SEE THE UNIVERSE.
Comment: So speaks John Dobson the charismatic, free thinking spokesman for public astronomy.
He donates his enormous energy & talents, totally free of charge, so that others may see with their own eyes this universe.
These are his SPOKEN words not his written ones. Regrettably much of the flavor & nearly all of the cadence are lost in
Dobson: When I was in the Monastery I wanted to see what the universe looked like. And so I
helped somebody make a telescope. And when, through that telescope, I saw the third quarter Moon, it looked as if I were coming
in for a landing. I couldn't BELIEVE that the Moon would look like that! And I thought, my god, and inside of me it said,
"Everybody's got to see this, everybody in the world has to see this!"
& TELESCOPES ON A BUSY CITY SIDEWALK.
Dobson: The Moon, The Whole Moon & Nothing but the Moon! [He
chuckles.] Come see the Moon. Come see the Moon through the telescopes. Woman at telescope, "WOW! I never knew the Moon
looked anything like that! I could almost touch it!" Another person beams, "Monte bello, beautiful!" Comment:
Hour after hour, night after night, decade after decade, for more than 40 years, John Dobson takes his user friendly telescopes
to the public. He offers whoever is willing to look a chance- though a telescope- to see the universe.
the Moon. We're looking at the Moon through the telescopes...
CROWD SITTING ON HILLSIDE AT DUSK.
"I was wondering about those black clouds you can't see stars beyond?" Dobson: You're sitting on one of
those clouds. The universe has three ingredients, hydrogen & helium & the dust of exploded stars. And the Earth is
made of the dust of exploded stars.
At Glacier Point Yosemite: Dobson:
We've seen the Corona Borealis cluster of galaxies from there, and that's about far enough away so the light we see
now left those galaxies during the formation of the Late Precambrian rocks at the base of the Grand Canyon gorge. And over
those rocks SEVEN OCEANS have come and gone while the lights been coming.
BIGGER THAN OR-GEN:
magnificent blue sky day at Crater Lake Oregon. Dobson & charming youngster at solar telescope: Dobson: That big green
ball is the Sun. Look again. That big green ball is the Sun. OK. And those dark spots you see are on the Sun. And They're
bigger than the Earth. They're bigger than Carter Lake. They're bigger than Oregon. Youngster gasps: "Oooh! Bigger
Dobson: Anyway we took these pictures to India & we showed
them all over and the people were flabbergasted! They don't have all these magazines with pictures like this. They don't
have all these public television stations with all these pictures in them. They've never seen these pictures and they
Dobson: Everybody is tied into what he feels to be real.
OK? And when he looks up with a telescope into that VAST emptiness he KNOWS that is REAL. Everybody gets that feeling. And
some people get swept away by it. Really swept away by it. Their life gets completely changed by looking through these telescopes.
Dobson: Everybody is born curious, Everybody wants to see this universe, Everybody wants to understand this
universe, They're just waiting for some one to present it to them, Everybody wants to understand this thing in his guts.
You see at all these place you go there are so many people terribly interested in these things. And you have to understand
that the population of this Earth is several billion with,
All those eyes waiting to see, All those ears waiting to
hear, All those minds eager to understand, And somebody's got this job to do.
Dobson: I'm primarily interested,
you see, to understand why we see a universe at all. And why, if we do see a universe, do we see the kind of universe that
Why do we see the universe spaced out in space and time? Why is it made of gravity? Why is it made of electricity?
Why does it fall together by gravity? And why do bicycles coast?
There's something inside you that DRIVES you to
understand this universe. It's not something you have to think about. There's something that DRIVES you to understand
how things work.
Why do we see what we see? Why is it like this? Why isn't it some other way? Why isn't made
of butter? Why is it made of these tiny little things you can't cut any further?
Today we're doing rough grinding. Rough grinding is caveman's work. Eat well, Sleep well & Work like hell. Remember
there is no boo-boo you can do in this class that will be followed by a life of sorrow. The worst state you can possibly end
up in is not having a telescope. And that's where you are now. [laughter.]
These people start with a raw hunk of
glass and then even with an unsilvered mirror they look at the Moon and they see all those craters & they're flabbergasted.
That's what gets everybody.
Dobson: I'm not interested in telescopes. I'm really not. If I had to just sit
around making telescopes for sale I'd be long gone. I'm interested in information.
Dobson: The reason these people are connected with me is because I stand for something, for some information
about this universe. They're not interested in me. They're interested in the information. And they've never seen
this information put in a package before. And that's the fact.
Comment: Dobson is the "PACKAGE". Brilliant,
complex, impassioned, fun & unbelievably selfless, he's driven to show the Moon- the Sun- the Planets- the Universe
to everyone willing to look. He calls this enormous undertaking simply:
"PUBLIC SERVICE IN ASTRONOMY".
John's a chemist, monk, philosopher, cosmologist, writer, speaker, inventor, entertainer, physicist, world
traveler, gifted teacher & tireless leader. Above all he's a professional astronomer. He talks in gust and listens
Some of his students build their own telescopes, they & others are delighted to visit a VAST new empty
place with moons, planets & stars, a place called the universe. For good reason John's been called the "Pied
Piper of Astronomy".
In 1966 he invented the now world famous "Dobsonian" telescope. They're huge,
inexpensive, portable, ingenuously simple, easy to build & a joy to use. Next he invented a foolproof solar telescope
also specifically designed for public use.
He says, "THESE TELESCOPES ARE NOT FOR TAKING PRETTY PICTURES THEY'RE
FOR WARM EYES".
In some ways Dobson & Galileo are alike: Both improved telescope design. Both observe through
their telescopes, the Moon, Sun spots, Planets & the Universe. Both brought this magic to the PUBLIC. [Galileo by not
writing in Latin, Dobson by taking his telescopes to the public.] Both are free thinkers. Both are ahead of their times.
nearly 89 John has the vigor & pep of youth, keeping up with him is no easy matter. But BEWARE his enthusiasm is highly
A friend jokes: "John eats pitch & sleeps in a tube."
Dobson: Well of course
we do, you know, we do sleep in the telescopes. We sleep in the 24-incher all the time when it's not set up. It take two
people end to end, unless they're more than six feet. And the record for sleeping in the 24-incher is eight weeks. Gerard
had to sleep eight weeks there when the bus broke down.
Comment: Every summer Dobson, crew & telescopes travel from
Public Park to Public Park in a beat up old yellow van with "San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers" painted on the
A MILLION TELESCOPES.
Comment: At first glance a "million people" with
telescopes seems like a ridiculously large number, but a million is a mere trifle, less than 0.02%, of the worlds population.
[By analogy one million is to 6.6 billion as one foot is to a mile & a quarter.]
Obviously the billions of poor
can NEVER afford a telescope at any price, but they can, IF GIVEN THE CHANCE, afford to look through one. Clearly the enormous
income, language & cultural barriers give one pause, however, with the internet, laptop computers, global trade &
jet planes the challenge of a million telescopes seems doable.
Dobson: Now to me it is not so much how big
your telescope is, it's not so much what figure the mirror has or what pretty pictures it takes. It's how many people
in this vast world, less fortunate than you, have had a chance, through your telescope, to see and understand this universe.
To me that is one thing that drives me.
IF THERE WERE A MILLION PEOPLE, ONLY A MILLION PEOPLE, WITH TELESCOPES,
WILLING TO LET A FEW THOUSAND OTHER PEOPLE LOOK THROUGH THEM, IT IS POSSIBLE THAT EVERYONE WHO WALKS THIS EARTH, WITH EYES
TO SEE, COULD SEE THE UNIVERSE.