Marvel at meteors, learn the science of space

Perseid meteor shower
Perseid meteor shower

Don’t miss the astronomical light show of the year!

Join NIU STEM Outreach Thursday, Aug. 11, at the Bliss Creek Golf Course in Sugar Grove for “Star Gazing,” a STEM Café event devoted to the dazzling Perseid meteor shower.

The free event starts at 6:30 p.m with a buffet of pizza, pasta, salad and soft drinks, available for $12.

While the sun sets, guests will be treated to short, entertaining talks that prepare them for the shower by educating them about the night sky. After the sky has become dark enough to spot the meteors, everyone will move outside to take in the show.

STEM Outreach associate Jeremy Benson will provide an overview of the science behind meteor showers.

“The Perseid shower happens once a year, when Earth crosses paths with the Swift-Tuttle Comet,” he says. “The meteors are actually debris from the comet’s tail. It’s an absolutely awe-inspiring sight.”

Paul Stoddard, an NIU associate professor of geology and environmental geosciences who studies the the geology of other planets, will discuss the past, present and future of attempts to explore Mars.

Northwestern University Research Associate Professor Shane Larson will explain the recent, unprecedented detection of gravitational waves by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a project to which he contributes.

“The LIGO discoveries were all over the news when they came out, but gravitational waves are hard to wrap your head around,” says Larson, who also works as an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium. “I want to give people a chance to really grasp what the discovery means, and how important it is.”

Jeremy Benson
Jeremy Benson

NIU physics graduate student Gregory Alley, who runs the Davis Hall observatory on campus, will focus on the science of larger near-earth objects. “Meteor showers like the Perseid are harmless,” he says. “But larger objects that come close to the Earth’s orbit have the potential to do a great deal more harm. The race is on to identify the most dangerous asteroids and develop the technology to deflect them.”

When the sky goes dark, guests will be perfectly situated to view the meteor shower.

“We’ve scheduled the event for the peak of the shower,” says STEM Outreach associate Judith Dymond. “That means that people will be able to see with the naked eye around 50 meteors falling each hour.”

Guests are also welcome to bring their own telescopes or use those provided by NIU to get a closer look at other celestial bodies.

This event is part of NIU STEM Outreach’s series of monthly Stem Cafés, all of which are free and open to the public.

For more information on “Star Gazing,” STEM Cafés in general or other STEM events, call (815) 753-4751 or email jdymond@niu.edu.

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