A Sidewalk Astronomer

On any given night around the world, thousands of people peer into deep space because of John Dobson. An 89-year old with a white ponytail and a knack for comedy, John Dobson revolutionized astronomy. He is the inventor of the Dobsonian telescope mount, which changed the field of astronomy dramatically, making telescopes accessible to the public on every continent.

A former Vedanta monk, he is a co-founder of 'Sidewalk Astronomers,' an organization that encourages amateurs to share their telescopes and knowledge with others on busy city streets and in national parks 'so people can see something of the Universe in which they were born.' The film follows John as he tours the country from the sidewalks of San Francisco to Stellafane, a convention of telescope makers in Vermont. It features sequences on sidewalk astronomy, telescope making, the Moon, Sun, major planets, galaxies, Big Bang Theory, and the nature of time and space.

We also get to know Dobson, a fascinating thinker, philosopher, teacher, and human being. This astronomical and cosmological journey is illustrated with actual film footage and stills of space shot from satellites and spacecraft courtesy of NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Goddard Space Flight Center and the Hubble Space Telescope Institute.

'A Sidewalk Astronomer is an inspiring film about an inspired teacher. It should leave all viewers with an ounce of curiosity eager to hit the streets with Dobsonian telescopes of their own.' Dana Stevens, New York Times

'This film will thrill astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts. It provides a look into the life and accomplishments of a folk-hero among astronomers, and gives much to ponder about the universe and the nature of time and space. Non-astronomers should find enough to inspire an interest in the universe and its wonders. Recommended, Highly Recommended for astronomers.' David Bertuca, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Educational Media Reviews Online

'Here is a spectacular, and masterfully produced presentation, starring the inventor of the Dobson telescope, who boldly and humorously devastates two sacred cows of cosmology, the Big Bang and the expanding universe interpretation of the red shift.' 21st Century Science and Technology Magazine

'Resource meets CLRN Review Criteria.' California Learning Resource Network

'This is a fine film about an engaging and amazing character...[A Sidewalk Astronomer] would appeal to a broad audience - certainly, to anyone who has ever gazed in wonder at the sky on a moonless night.' AAAS's Science Books and Films

'Fascinating viewing...Highly recommended.' Library Journal


''It's not that he thinks outside the box,' reflects filmmaker Jacobs. 'He doesn't even see the box.' Or, for that matter, believe in the Big Bang. 'First of all, they have it coming out of nothing and that's impossible,' he says. 'And then they have it coming out of a black hole and that's just as impossible.' Dobson believes in something bigger than the bang. 'He thinks he's got the secret to the universe,' complains one astronomer. Chortles Dobson, 'hundreds of years ago they would have already burned me at the stake.'' Smithsonian Magazine


Main credits

Jacobs, Jeffrey Fox (film director)
Jacobs, Jeffrey Fox (film producer)
Jacobs, Jeffrey Fox (photographer)
Dobson, John L (on-screen participant)

Other credits

Editor, Jeanne Vitale; music by John Angier.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

American Studies
Environmental Ethics
Physical Science
Science, Technology, Society


universe, deep space, John Dobson, astronomy, Dobsonian telescope mount, Vedanta, Sidewalk Astronomers, universe, San Francisco, Stellafane, Vermont, Moon, Sun, major planets, galaxies, ; Big Bang Theory, nature of time and space, film footage, stills of space, NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, Hubble Space Telescope Institute; "A Sidewalk Astronomer"; Bullfrog Films