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All this and the stars, too

July 31, 2015
Photo courtesy NASA.

Photo courtesy NASA.

Here come the meteors!

Once a year, our planet crosses the path of the Swift-Tuttle Comet. Debris from the comet’s tail slams into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, creating the dazzling Perseid meteor shower.

This year, watch the meteors streak across the sky with NIU STEM Outreach at “Star Gazing,” a STEM Café event at Bliss Creek Golf Course in Sugar Grove. The event takes place from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 12.

While the sun sets, guests can enjoy short, entertaining talks about the night sky and its secrets. During the talks, a buffet with pizza, pasta, salad and soft drinks will be available for $12.

  • At 7:30, STEM Outreach Associate Jeremy Benson will kick things off by explaining the science behind meteor showers. “This is one of my favorite STEM Outreach events of the year,” he says. “It’s great to get outside and marvel at the night sky with no obstructions and no light pollution. Plus it’s awesome to think about what meteors are and how this light show comes to exist.”
  • At 7:45, NASA Ambassador Joel Knapper will discuss Pluto, from its discovery by an Illinois citizen in 1930 to historic new data gathered by the New Horizons spacecraft just a few weeks ago. “We’re alive to witness one of the last new discoveries in our solar system,” Knapper says. “That’s pretty amazing.”
  • At 8:20, NIU Associate Professor of Geology and Environmental Geosciences Paul Stoddard will talk about the search for life in the solar system, focusing on Mars and Europa, a moon of Jupiter.

Photo of a telescopeAfter the sky goes dark, guests will view the meteor shower. Because the shower will be at its peak, approximately 50 meteors will fall each hour. Guests will be able to see the meteors with the naked eye.

Guests are also welcome to bring their own telescopes or use those provided by NIU to get a closer look at other celestial bodies that will be viewable in the night sky. “The event will take place rain or shine,” says STEM Café coordinator Judith Dymond. “We’re hoping for clear skies, but regardless of the weather, we’ll have great speakers who can shed some light into the dark reaches of space for us.”

This event is part of NIU STEM Outreach’s series of monthly STEM Cafés, all of which are free and open to the public. STEM Cafés are just one type of engaging event that STEM Outreach hosts throughout the year to increase public awareness of the critical roles the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – play in everyday lives.

For more information on STEM Cafés and other STEM events, call (815) 753-4751 or email [email protected].

by Peter C. Baker