Night Sky Classes

2018 Schedule

Fall Series

Classes begin at 7pm

Class 1: Mon., Sept. 10
Asterisms and Constellations
Stars, Deep Sky Objects
Sky Charts
The "Great Square of Pegasus"
Constellations: Pegasus, Aquarius, Piscis Austrinus

Class 2: Mon., Oct. 1
Sky Motion and the
Seasonal Skies
Celestial Poles and
Celestial Equator
The Ecliptic and the Zodiac
Constellations: Andromeda, Cepheus, Cassiopeia

Class 3: Mon. Oct. 8
Obliquity of the Ecliptic
Equinoxes and Solstices
Precession and Epochs
Constellations: Aries, Triangulum, Lacerta

Class 4: Mon., Nov. 5
The Solar System
Constellations: Perseus, Pisces, Cetus

Class 5: Mon., Dec. 3
The Moon and Eclipses
Spiral Structure and
Star Formation
Galaxy Clusters and
The "Winter Hexagon"
Constellations: Auriga, Camelopardalis, Taurus

Class 6: Mon., Dec. 10
The Milky Way and our
Milky Way Neighborhood
The Galactic Halo and Globular Clusters
Constellations: Orion,
Lepus, Eridanus

2019 Schedule

Classes begin at 7pm

Winter Series
Jan. 28, Feb. 4, Mar. 4,
Apr. 1, Apr. 29, May 6

Summer Series
Jun. 3, Jun. 24, Jul. 1,
Jul. 22, Jul. 29, Aug. 26

Fall Series
Sep. 23, Sep. 30, Oct. 21, Oct. 28, Nov. 18, Nov. 25

The Night Sky

Lectures on our Place in the Universe and the Constellations of the Seasons

Night Sky Class

What: The three seasonal series (six classes each) are designed for everyone from total beginners to experienced amateur observers. Whether you want to learn the constellations or have a telescope and want to expand your knowledge of viewing objects, these classes have something for you.

The focus is on learning the night sky in a "geographic" sense...locating yourself in our solar system, our Milky Way and our local galaxy cluster neighborhoods!
A few constellations are introduced in each class—their myths, history and interesting stars. We also cover deep sky objects such as the beautiful nebulae and clusters that never cease to awe and amaze.

After each class (sky conditions permitting), we go outside to locate the constellations just presented. We then move to the Observatory's telescopes to view objects within the featured constellations, until or beyond 10:30 PM (11:30 PM daylight time).

Basic topics are repeated in each series so that concepts become familiar. Persons who take all three Night Sky series (18 classes in all) will learn the entire sky viewable from our northern latitude. (The winter sky is split between the Fall and Spring Series).

Handouts: Detailed informational handouts are provided at each class. These may serve as excellent reference materials for all types of observing. The handouts are compiled from a large number of sources, and the observatory strives to make certain that they are useful, accurate, and up-to-date.

Where: At The Robert Ferguson Observatory (map). Park in the gravel area near the horse corrals just outside the gate to the Group Camp/Observatory site. You do not need to pay the park day use fee to attend the class, however you must obtain a parking pass from us and take it back to your car before the class begins.

When: Presentations begin promptly at the times noted at left and last approximately 90 minutes. Please arrive about 30 minutes early on your first night to check in and obtain a parking pass.

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Purchase Tickets

Fall Series Pass is $75, available at
Brown Paper Tickets

Single session price is $23, available at

Brown Paper Tickets

Prices include admission to the State Park at class time.



M51, the "Whirlpool Galaxy" photographed by docents Rachel Freed and Steve Smith using the RFO's Robotic Telescope, 2008. More photos



"Jack Welch has created the most accessible approach to astronomy that I've found. His handouts comprise my 'go-to' observing library. I've taken all his classes and am on my second round—there's so much to learn and enjoy. Highly recommended."
—CY, Santa Rosa


Observing Lab

"Star Death: The End of Stellar Fusion"

Sunday, Sept, 9, 7:00pm CANCELLED

Telescope Intensives


M1, the "Crab Nebula" photographed by docent Steve Smith

Observing Labs
 provide a night of intensive telescope observing devoted to a single topic. Attendance is limited to a small group. Each attendee gets lots of eye time at several observatory telescopes, with an annotated observing list of the targeted objects, guidance from the docents operating the scopes, a brief presentation explaining the night's topic, and more.

This is a special observing experience that few people get to have. You can expect to notice subtle detail that escapes more casual viewers. You will appreciate the nature of the objects you are viewing because they are related to the night's topic. All of this is made easy and is ready and waiting for you!

A Lab is usually scheduled with a "rain check" date in case the sky conditions are unfavorable on the scheduled night. Thus, there are two opportunities for the session to occur successfully.

Star Death: The End of Stellar Fusion
Stars are giant balls of gas so massive that their internal pressures and temperatures result in sustained nuclear fusion that generates tremendous amounts of energy. In this lab we examine what happens when stars exhaust their nuclear fuel, observing the various sorts of remnants different types of stars leave behind.

This lab occurs just once each year.


Purchase Tickets

For more information email tickets@rfo.org

"I've attended all the 'Night Sky Series' classes along with various 'Labs.' The RFO is an excellent way to learn and discover astronomy...
docents are friendly, and the atmosphere is very comfortable!"
—JD, Santa Rosa


Focus Nights

Focus on Saturn
July 19, 7pm

SATURN... a world that continues to dazzle and mystify. This iconic planet, sixth from the Sun, is home to an orbiting array of intriguing and unique worlds of its own. Yet even with a family of over 60 moons, where would Saturn be without its rings? Did you know its rings are disappearing?

If you've never seen Saturn in a telescope, you're missing out on the thrill of a lifetime. But that's not all! Other spectacles of the night sky, including nebulae and galaxies, also await.

So, come learn more about this fascinating planetary system, and see Saturn with the eyes of our new massive reflecting telescope. We promise the rings are still there...for now.

Brown Paper Tickets


Focus Nights

Have you ever wondered what's really out there in the night sky? Wished you could zoom in on cosmic marvels? What if you had a handful of astronomers at your elbow, showing the way, answering your questions in plain language?

That's a Focus Night at Robert Ferguson Observatory!

Attendance is limited to ensure a relaxed personal learning and viewing experience. In the observatory classroom you'll hear an in-depth presentation. Afterward, we move outside to three different telescopes for a real look. You'll have plenty of scope time, and a chance to focus on the night's topic.

But that's not all. Other spectacles of the night sky, including nebulae and galaxies, also await. In our new 40-inch reflector, one of the largest public telescopes in California, you can see details of deep-space objects that will leave you murmuring in awe.

Getting Here
Park entrance and parking fees are included in the price of your ticket.

Allow at least 20 minutes to drive from the Adobe Canyon Road turn off at Highway 12 to the Observatory. You will follow Adobe Canyon Road all the way through Sugarloaf Ridge Park. The road is winding, but paved and well maintained. Stay on the main road. If there is road in front of you, you aren't there yet.

You will park in the gravel area near the horse corrals and white barn, just outside the green metal gate to the Group Camp and Observatory site.

Guests will be met at the parking lot by an Observatory docent for check-in and a parking pass, as well as red cellophane to cover flashlights.

There is a short, easy walk (about one block) from the parking area to the Observatory. You should arrive at dusk, but please bring a small handheld flashlight for the walk back to your car in the dark.

Handicap parking is available at the Observatory and the entrance to the building is ramped.

Red Lights Only
No WHITE lights at the Observatory after dark!

Most of the objects we will be looking at through the telescopes have faint and subtle features. To ensure that we get the most out of our observing experience, no white lights should be used in or around the Observatory after dark. It takes 20 to 30 minutes for the human eye to become dark adapted. Even a brief flash of white light from a white flashlight, cell phone screen, camera flash or car headlight will ruin it for everyone. Please be courteous and observe the no white light rule.

RED lights only after dark!

The observatory is a red-light-only area to protect everyone's night vision. We will supply red cellophane to cover handheld flashlights. Cell phone "flashlights", lanterns and head lamps are difficult to cover with red cellophane and are not recommended. Red flashlights are also available for $5 at the Observatory.

How to Dress
The observing is done in an outdoor environment. Bring warm, layered clothing. Knit caps, gloves and warm socks are recommended. Even in summer, it can be very chilly late at night. Be prepared.

Alcohol and tobacco are prohibited on the Observatory grounds. And they reduce your night vision besides.

There is no cell phone coverage in the Park.


Purchase Tickets Online

Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets. Click on the logo at left for the Focus Night you wish to attend.

General Admission $25
Senior (62+) $20
Youth (under 18) $20

Limited to 20 guests

Please read the refund and guest information below before purchasing.



We can't promise the moon, but we try. In case the sky conditions are unfavorable on the scheduled night, participants will be contacted 24 hours in advance. The session will be cancelled and refunds issued.


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