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About the Sidewalk Astronomers

The Sidewalk Astronomers is a volunteer organization with members throughout the world.  Since 1968, when John Dobson and two of his students (Bruce Sams and Jeff Roloff) started the San Francisco Sidwalk Astronomers, our sole purpose for existence has been public service in astronomy. In 1976, our growing organiztion became known simply as "the Sidewalk Astronomers" although legally, the "San Francisco" remained for many years as we were a 501c3 non profit. In the last few years, we stopping being a nonprofit because the whole reason we started to collect funds was to offset the cost of the newsletter. With the growth of social media, a print newsletter wasn't needed and the minimal cost of the this website is paid for by one of our members.  Without the expense of the newsletter, we just have no need to raise funds. 

What we consider to be our primary work is: 1)giving the people of this planet a chance to see, with their own eyes, celestial objects through good-sized telescopes, and 2) providing them with information about what they are seeing. We never charge for this service, and anyone who does in not affiliated with our organization! In order that more people may own and use telescopes for this purpose, we also teach classes and offer assistance in low-cost telescope making.

In urban areas, we set up our telescopes in places where people are likely to be passing by - busy street corners, shopping malls, movie theaters, fairs, etc. In the cities, we use mainly 10" and 12" Dobsonsians. Our Moon and the planets are very clear, even with city lights and an 8" telescope. Most of our members build and own their own telescopes, but it is not a requirement. Many of the people who look through our simple and somewhat primitive plywood and cardboard telescopes want to build one themselves, so we provide plans and assistance on request.

Outside of the cities, we hold star parties at state, county, and national parks. All of these are free, public service events. We take larger telescopes - 16" and 18" to the visitor centers and with the rangers, provide evening programs for the visitors to the parks.

During the day, we set up sun telescopes both in the cities and at the parks.

In addition to public viewing, we provide astronomy programs for schools, libraries, and other organizations that consist of lectures, slide shows, observing, and sometimes telescope making.

Telescope making is an important part of the Sidewalk Astronomers. Not only are we committed to keeping the art of telescope making alive, we try to do it as inexpensively as possible, so that no one is denied a telescope because of cost.

Another important part of our work is correspondance. We get a great deal of mail and calls from people with various questions about amatuer astronomy. Many need to find a club in their area, some want to build a telescope, hold an "Astronomy Night", and some simply want to know where they can go to look through a scope. We try very hard to make sure that we answer everyone who contacts us and give them the information they need.

The Sidewalk Astronomers publish a newsletter three or four times a year. We try to focus on sidewalk and telescope making experiences. We do ask for yearly dues to offset the cost of printing and mailing the newsletter, but we never take anyone off our list simply because they don't pay. We allow anyone to write articles for our newsletter, as long as the content is appropriate, you don't have to be a member to contribute a story.

Naturally, we dream about the future - about reaching more people - and little by little our dreams are coming true. Simply do a search on Sidewalk Astronomers and you will find many groups, some of them not affiliated with us, who do sidewalk astronomy on a regular basis. Today, partly because of John and the early Sidewalk Astronomers, most clubs spend a great deal of time and effort on public service astronomy as well as telescope building.


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