3 Sonoma students honored by astronomy program

They were awarded telescopes for winning this year’s Striking Sparks competition.|

Three Sonoma Valley students were awarded telescopes Thursday by Striking Sparks, a program that promotes science education and interest in astronomy.

The students were honored at Piner High School planetarium in Santa Rosa during a program facilitated by Robert Ferguson Observatory. The students were chosen based on an essay they wrote about why they would like to win a telescope through the Striking Sparks program. The also needed a supporting statement from their teacher and were required to attend an event at the observatory or one of its Young Astronomers meetings.

The honorees included:

∎ Matt Makiva, an eighth-grade student at Woodland Star Charter School (teacher, A. Bojarksy; sponsor, Kenneth Frank; mentor, Kenneth Frank).

∎ Ruby Barron, a fifth-grader at Prestwood Elementary School (teacher, Sharai Hernandez; sponsor, the Frank Hejtmanek family; mentor, Colleen Ferguson).

∎ Zoe Pullis, a fourth-grader at Sonoma Charter School (teacher, Catherine Stone; sponsors, Nancy Cummings and Daniele Todaro; mentor, Nancy Cummings).

Two other county students were honored: Cecilia Rose Sphere, a fourth-grader at Evergreen Elementary School in Rohnert Park (teacher, Erin Scull; sponsors, Joe and Brianna Matel; mentor, Nancy Cummings); and Natalie Burton, an eighth-grader at Harvest Christian School in Petaluma (teacher, Jen Wraith; sponsor and mentor, Michael Eckstein).

The ceremony at Piner High School included an introduction of the Striking Sparks and Young Astronomers docent team, a history of Striking Sparks and an overview of telescope operations and safety. The students also were taught how to transport their telescopes and move them outside for viewing.

Robert Ferguson, the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park 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. The student went on to obtain a doctorate in astrophysics. The program was continued by the Sonoma County Astronomical Society and was transferred to the Robert Ferguson Observatory in 2019.

Initially, volunteers built about 200 telescopes by hand for the program, but recently Orion Dobsonian telescopes were purchased through funds dedicated by sponsors. Since the program’s inception, 287 telescopes have been awarded to Sonoma County students.

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at daniel.johnson@sonomanews.com.

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