STEM Café’s popular stargazing event moves to Kuiper’s Orchard

This NASA Hubble Telescope image captured the birth of stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud Galaxy, a near neighbor of the Milky Way.
This NASA Hubble Telescope image captured the birth of stars
in the Large Magellanic Cloud Galaxy, a near neighbor of the Milky Way.

Looking for a spectacular summer show? Look no further than the night sky.

In mid-August, the annual Perseid meteor shower will radiate from the Perseus constellation and appear throughout the sky and NIU’s STEM Café will once again be there to watch it.

From 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, STEM Café will present Star Gazing at the Orchard at Kuipers Family Farm, 1N318 Watson Road in Maple Park.

At this free, family-friendly event, NIU experts Daniel Stange, David Hedin and Sheldon Turner will discuss everything from NASA’s latest missions to the meteor shower to the ex-planetary status of Pluto. After the talks, attendees are welcome to use NIU’s telescopes or bring their own telescopes to get a better view of the meteors.

Kuiper’s Family Farm is a popular location for celebrations and events as well as for apples and pumpkins. STEM Café coordinator Judith Dymond says Kuipers offers the perfect mix of ingredients for a great star-gazing event. “The orchard is absolutely beautiful,” she says, “and it’s located in the rolling hills outside of Maple Park so there is very little light pollution to spoil our view of the meteor shower.”

Dymond will welcome new and returning speakers to this year’s stargazing event.

Stange, the new manager of NIU’s Davis Hall Observatory, will make his first appearance at a STEM Café. In honor of the meteor shower, he plans to share information on the history of unmanned spacecraft missions to comets.

Studying comets is like peering through time to explore the composition of the early universe, Stange says. “A better understanding of comets and asteroids could provide answers to why there is substantial water on Earth,” he says, “or whether it is possible for small microbial life to be transported throughout the solar system.”

Pluto and Charon have been called double planets and dwarf planets because of their small size and close proximity as compared to Earth and its moon.
Pluto and Charon have been called double planets and dwarf planets because of their small size and close proximity as compared to Earth and its moon.

Hedin, a Board of Trustees Professor, is a returning speaker to the STEM Café stargazing events. His talk will be truly out of this world: in fact, his topic is out of the solar system.

He will discuss recent discoveries of exoplanets – planets that do not orbit our sun – and talk about the possibility of habitable Earth-like planets in the universe.

Turner, with NIU’s Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, and Energy, might have the night’s most controversial topic. He plans to discuss why the International Astronomical Union changed the definition of a planet to exclude Pluto and created the new category of dwarf planet.

The Pluto demotion highlights the self-correcting nature of the scientific process, he says.

“As scientists gather new evidence, old ideas are modified and sometimes even replaced by more accurate ones,” he says. “Something that many people, including scientists, sometimes forget is that our names and categories for things are created by humans and don’t necessarily reflect connections in nature.”

Turner, who holds a Ph.D. in geological sciences, says that he first became interested in science because of his fascination with Mars and the idea of other worlds in our solar system. “Studying other planets is an invaluable tool to better understanding our home, the Earth,” he says.

For the STEM Café, Kuipers is preparing a special dinner menu. Food, soft drinks, beer and wine will be available for purchase. If the meteor showers are obscured by rain showers, the program and food will move inside a building at the orchard until the air clears.

This event is part of NIU STEM Outreach’s series of monthly STEM Cafés, which are free and open to the public. The STEM Café series is just one of the many engaging events STEM Outreach hosts to increase public awareness of the critical role that STEM fields play in our every-day lives. For more information, call (815) 753-4751 or email jdymond@niu.edu.

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