How RFO came to be
The Observatory is named in honor of Robert Ferguson. Bob was an avid amateur astronomer who built telescopes and shared his enthusiasm for astronomy with everyone he met, especially children. He was the inspiration for the development of an observatory as an educational and public resource for the community, and so it bears his name.
He started the Striking Sparks program which gives away telescopes each year to Sonoma County school kids. The photo at right shows him with one of the original Sparks telescopes. Telescopes are provided by the Sonoma County Astronomical Society (SCAS), an organization that Bob was affiliated with for many years. The Sparks program continues, and to date the SCAS has awarded 266 telescopes.
The idea of a community observatory was in the "dream stage" for about ten years. The Valley of the Moon Observatory Association (VMOA) was founded in July of 1995, and planning began in earnest.
The VMOA was allowed to build an observatory inside Sugarloaf Ridge State Park by the State of California. One of the former State Park District superintendents, an amateur astronomer, was an advocate for the idea. The State felt that an observatory would increase park visitation, and it has—last year RFO hosted over 7,000 visitors. The observatory was a community-supported initiative committed to strengthening local science and mathematics education, which also appealed to the State Parks.
The building was constructed in several phases by volunteer labor:
Phase 1 of the Observatory (the West Wing) was completed in February, 1997. The West Wing houses the large reflector telescope. The peaked roof slides back for viewing.
The second phase (the classroom, bathrooms, library and East Wing) was finished in May, 1999. The East Wing houses the robotic "CCD" telescope.
The final phase, the construction of a domed observatory, was completed in early 2003. It houses a two-meter-long refractor telescope with an 8" front lens. The original dome eventually leaked and was replaced in 2010.
RFO is sited in a location that at first glance appears to be less than ideal because of surrounding trees. However, it is actually the Observatory walls that limit the telescopes' range. The protective ring of hills decreases the influence of light pollution from surrounding cities.
The Valley of the Moon Natural History Association (VMNHA) was the parent organization of VMOA. It is responsible for the recruitment and initial training of new volunteers and docents for three of the Silverado District parks: Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Jack London State Park and Annadel State Park. The Observatory is a 501(c)3 education foundation and is run entirely by volunteers.
Photos: Mark Hillestad
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