Reaching for the Stars

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Contact: Stephanie Derammelaere

Robert Ferguson Observatory

Phone: 707.333.1331

Email: [email protected]

Youth compete to win a new telescope through RFO’s Striking Sparks Competition

Kenwood, CA, January 19, 2022 – Robert Ferguson Observatory (RFO) has launched the 37th year of their Striking Sparks competition, a program that awards telescopes to Sonoma County students to promote science education and interest in astronomy. The deadline to apply is February 26th, 2022.

Robert Ferguson, the observatory’s namesake, founded the Striking Sparks program in 1985 when he built a telescope with a student to “strike a spark” of interest in science and astronomy. That first “spark” of interest contributed to the student ultimately graduating with a Ph.D. in Astrophysics. The program continued through the Sonoma County Astronomical Society, and later was transferred to the Robert Ferguson Observatory in 2019. Initially volunteers hand built about 200 telescopes, but more recently Orion Dobsonian telescopes are purchased through funds donated by sponsors. In the program’s 36-year history, 287 telescopes have been awarded, striking a flurry of sparks in Sonoma County students. 

“Candidates are usually nominated by their teachers or by RFO members,” says Larry McCune, Striking Sparks Coordinator for RFO. “Eligible applicants must be Sonoma County students in first through eighth grade. We also require attendance at one or more events at RFO before the contest entry. Lastly, the candidate must write an essay about his or her interest in astronomy.”

Last year’s telescope, awarded to Violet Cole, a fourth grader from McKinley Elementary School in Petaluma, was sponsored by the Frank Hejtmanek Family Fund that has provided an annual award for 20 years. Frank’s son Mark Hejtmanek of Littleton, Colorado administers the fund. An engraved sponsor’s plaque is attached to each telescope. Orion Telescopes and Binoculars of Watsonville, California also supports the program.

Many of the previous Striking Sparks winners have attained professional careers in astronomy, science, and engineering, or just have a greater appreciation of the night sky. RFO continually seeks individuals or organizations to sponsor telescopes and participate in this worthwhile program. For additional information, visit

About Robert Ferguson Observatory (RFO) – 

Robert Ferguson Observatory is run by the Valley of the Moon Observatory Association, a 501(3)(c) non-profit, and has offered outreach-based astronomy and science programs to the public for almost 25 years. RFO is almost all-volunteer run and typically serves about 9,000 visitors annually. The observatory is located in Sugarloaf State Park and houses a 40-inch reflector telescope, the largest telescope in Northern California that is accessible to the public; a robotic 20-inch research-grade, “CCD” telescope; and an 8”, two-meter long refractor telescope. Like us on Facebook @RobertFergusonObservatory.

If you would like more information on this topic, please contact Stephanie Derammelaere at 707.333.1331 or email [email protected].

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