As Above, So Below


Inspired by the response to my post on the need to keep our gardens dark, I decided to reclaim my childhood telescope from my mom’s garage and get it working again. It occurred to me that I haven’t looked up at the night sky in a long time. What a shame. This past week I’ve been thinking about how important it is to look up at the stars–just as important, I think, as staying in touch with the plants, insects and animals that make this earth a paradise.

The design of this telescope is called a Dobsonian, after its inventor John Dobson, who passed away earlier this year. Dobson’s life took an unusual trajectory. He went from being a self described “belligerent atheist” to a monk in the Vendanta society to co-founding the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers.  Most of his life was spent bringing the night sky to people around the world and teaching people how to make their own low-cost telescopes.

As a monk, Dobson could not afford expensive materials. He kept the design inexpensive by using a simple mount and cheap materials: wood and cardboard. My Dobsonian was made by the now defunct Coulter Optical Company out of particle board and a cardboard concrete form. Its large 13.1 inch mirror makes it perfect for looking at nebulas, galaxies and star clusters even in light polluted urban areas.


Primitive astrophotography. I held my camera up to the eyepiece to get this photo of the moon last night.

I have to thank, in particular, Rob J of the San Jose Astronomical Association who sent some links about how to host a star party, how to host a school star party and inspired me to get the telescope out again.

Here’s some Dobson related resources:

Sidewalk Astronomers “We take telescopes TO the public – on street corners, public parks, in front of bookstores -wherever there are crowds of people.”

How to build a Dobsonian Telescope.

Have Telescopes Will Travel–a short film about John Dobson.

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  1. The Griffith Observatory hosts a group called the LAAS (Los Angeles Astronomical Society) and they do a lot of star parties, as well as set up their telescopes for public demonstrations. I’d consider getting in touch with them, they are a VERY nice group of people and you will see lots of Dobsonians there. Your Odyssey will be right at home!

    • I used to belong to the LAAS when I was in Junior High/High School. Used to participate in the Griffith Observatory events and hope to do so again. Lots of people come and I remember long lines to look in the telescope. People were thrilled to look through the telescope.

  2. I think there are a lot of traditional links between stargazing and homesteading. Look even as recently as the Farmer’s almanac. The yearly progression stars is a basic way to help mark the seasons. Being out at night observing keeps you in tune with the temperatures and humidity that your plants and animals are experiencing. The stillness and receptiveness makes you aware of other subtleties of your environment, as well. I think it is a skill very much interlinked with other skills you develop on this site.

  3. Happy to be your inspiration, and I’m happy that you pulled out your sweet, blue Odyssey. A 13 inch mirror is nothing to sneeze at!

    Hope you have it out tonight, late, just in time for the total lunar eclipse, for which we west coast North Americans are situated well.

    We host lots of public star parties, and people (including myself) are always surprised how well pictures come out when they simply put their phone camera up to the eyepiece and take a snapshot. Works well for big targets like the moon and sun (only when filtered! Never look at the sun through a telescope unless you know what you’re doing!) and even Jupiter (along with its four Galilean moons).


  4. Pingback: The Dobsonian Telescope

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