Above & Beyond: It’s All Sawdust and Mirrors

Above & Beyond: It’s All Sawdust and Mirrors

Still life with telescope, feline, and feet. Even the National Air and Space Museum uses a Dobsonian telescope to show visitors the sun. (Phil Scott)

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“It was probably light pollution. Take it to a dark area and try again. Focus on the moon: It should come in clean and crisp.”

It rained for the next three nights.

A couple of days later John Dobson called me back. He had returned to the monastery after he had a stroke in March 2008, although he still participates in star parties, where amateurs get together to compare telescopes. I asked him if he had that original telescope. “No,” he said. “Somebody borrowed it and set it up for ten years. They took the mirror out and left it set up in the rain, and we lost the rest of it.”

“What should I do with my telescope?” I asked.

“It’s only a little telescope,” he said. “It’s not very important what you do with it. What you need to do is get in touch with other people with telescopes when they have a star party. If you hob and nob with these people, you’ll eventually get to be a hobber and nobber yourself.”

The following evening the sky was relatively cloudless and a sliver of the moon crept up. I hauled my not-very-important telescope out to a golf course and pointed it at what was visible of the lunar surface. Like Galileo four centuries earlier, I saw its imperfect, craggy surface, the mountains, the craters, and what the ancients thought were seas. Like Murnaghan said, the view was clean and crisp.

Then I turned my new telescope on the nearest apartment building.

After suffering through a year of peace and quiet in Florida, Phil Scott returned to New York City, where he studies the moon with his telescope in Central Park.

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