USA | 79 MINUTES
A SIDEWALK ASTRONOMER
John Dobson has been dubbed the Pied Piper of Astronomy, and for good reason. Since designing his first telescope in 1956, the self-taught cosmologist and former monk has revolutionized amateur astronomy, showing thousands how to build their own high-power, low-cost telescopes. With his silver ponytail and knit beret, the octogenarian might seem an eccentric retiree sharing a hobby as he beckons passers-by to gaze at the moon’s Alp-sized mountains or Saturn’s rings of ice. But as director/producer Jeffrey Jacobs reveals in A Sidewalk Astronomer, Dobson is a natural-born teacher, whose folksy wit and scientific rigor get listeners charged up about mind-benders like, What lies beyond the edge of the universe? Dobson’s circuitous path in life is slowly revealed through bits of conversation and quips in the lecture hall. The Peking-born scientist got a degree in chemistry at Berkeley, but then changed course. The “belligerent atheist” became a Ramakrishna monk for 23 years. Given the assignment of reconciling the teachings of religion and science, Dobson thought he’d have a closer look at the cosmos and began developing telescopes. That led back to science and to his co-founding Sidewalk Astronomers. While offering full immersion in the mental universe of Dobson, A Sidewalk Astronomer also reveals the physical cosmos in all its glory. Solar flares twist like snakes, Jupiter spins like a top; galaxies are cocooned in clouds of stardust. It’s Dobson hope that cosmos-gazing will coax people to “see beyond our genetic programming.” A Sidewalk Astronomer provides the perfect launch pad.