Last Thursday, Wyoming Stargazing hosted a special stargazing program at the Kelly Campus of the Teton Science Schools for a group of over 20 college students who were visiting for a week long National Park Service Training Program. We had the opportunity to see craters on the Moon, Jupiter and its four largest moons, as well as the Great Orion Nebula. The last few folks who left also had the chance to see a brilliant shooting star and the Andromeda Galaxy.
When the stargazing program began the students had just completed a discussion about the idea of legacy. Although their enthusiasm for the objects they were viewing through the telescope–and the cold–prevented me from talking about the idea of legacy to the students, I was thinking about telling them the following:
The telescope that we were using was a classical Dobsonian telescope, named after its inventor, the famous amateur astronomer John Dobson, who died earlier this year. I had the pleasure of knowing John and hosting him in my home two different times when I organized speaking events for him. John insisted on sleeping on my couch as opposed to taking my bed, which I offered him. It was John that originally inspired me to pursue astronomy, after I watched a video that featured him showing people how to build telescopes. It was amazing experience for me to have the opportunity to meet John in person. I’ll never forget the lasso lessons he gave me, the dramatic reading of his book that he was working on at the time, nor the unidentified mushrooms he ate while the two of us were taking a walk through the woods behind Hampshire College in Amherst, MA.
John has left an amazing legacy. There are without a doubt 1,ooo’s of people, probably tens of thousands, and maybe even millions of people who have explored the night sky using their own hand built telescopes that use the Dobsonian mounting system and John’s mirror making techniques. John was always humble about the profundity of his invention, but it really has touched millions of people. The Dobsonian telescope is one of the most affordable and user-friendly telescope mounts for amateur astronomers around the world. I have built two Dobsonian telescopes and ground two mirrors myself. Seeing objects through those telescopes have been some of the most joyous and satisfying moments of my life.
I have tried to be a continuation of John Dobson’s legacy by teaching my own telescope building course while I was in college and by establishing two small observatories. Every time I give an astronomy lecture or host a stargazing program I have the sense that I am contributing, in my own small way, to an extraordinary legacy, that John Dobson, and many other astronomers are a part of. I suppose it really goes all the way back to Galileo, when he pointed a telescope to the sky and explored the heavens for the first time. Now, I am trying to leave behind a bigger legacy with the formation of Wyoming Stargazing. My hope is that through the program we lead, and eventually with the observatory and the planetarium we want to build, we will be inspire millions of people, in a similar way that John Dobson inspired me.