‘Summer Under the Stars’ 2012 blasts off June 5 with a viewing of Venus’ transit across the sun

NASA image of the Transit of Venus

NASA image of the Transit of Venus

We can’t all be astronauts or afford a seat on Virgin Galactic’s private shuttle to the International Space Station.

So NIU STEM Outreach and the Davis Hall Observatory are offering community members a closer look at the heavens with the Summer Under the Stars program.

The program offers free, family-friendly events that are open to the public.

These events give community members a chance to view rare celestial events and find out about the latest advancements in space exploration.

NIU experts in physics, astrophysics, astronomy, and geology will lead these activities and will allow time for question and answer sessions, hands-on activities, and visits to the Davis Hall Observatory.

Tuesday, June 5, Transit of Venus
Davis Hall Observatory, 3 p.m. to midnight

The first Summer Under the Stars event takes place Tuesday, June 5.

Between 3 p.m. and midnight, visitors are welcome to stop by the Davis Hall Observatory anytime during the day or evening to watch the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. This rare cosmic event will not occur again for 105 years.

During the transit, NIU’s telescope will be outfitted with a solar filter so that participants can safely stare into the sun. After sunset, the solar filter will be removed so that participants can do some additional star gazing.

Wednesday, July 25, Eyes on the Sky
La Tourette Hall, Room 200, 7 p.m.

In July, Donna Kubik, an astrophysicist at Fermilab and an NIU alumna, will discuss the similarities between research-grade telescopes and amateur telescopes and cameras using the Dark Energy Survey’s optical telescope as an example.

After the talk, participants can choose among several optics activities, from playing with periscopes to assembling Galileoscopes for star gazing. Throughout the evening, participants also can visit the observatory.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover is set to land on the surface of Mars this August.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover is set to land on the surface of Mars this August.

Saturday, Aug. 4
Curious about Curiosity?
La Tourette 200, 7 p.m.

In August, experts will give a 30-minute talk on the geology of Mars and what the Mars Rover Curiosity is designed to explore.

The talk will be followed by hands-on activities, including programming robotics and maneuvering remote controlled vehicles on an obstacle course.

Throughout the activity, participants also can visit the observatory.

Visitors to the DeKalb Campus can park in the Parking Garage or Visitor Parking Lot on Normal Road and then walk across Normal to La Tourette and Davis halls.

Parking is free on campus after 7 p.m.

To learn more about the Summer Under the Stars program and find other opportunities for star gazing and family fun with science this summer, visit http://www.niu.edu/stem/index.shtml.

by Gillian King-Cargile

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