Explore the night sky and the universe at the next NIU STEM Café

When was the last time you stopped and looked at the night sky just to marvel at the wonders of space? When have you taken a moment to dig into mysterious subjects like dark matter or learn about the latest space explorations from NASA?

The next STEM Café, presented by NIU STEAM, is your opportunity to delve into the mysteries of the universe and experience firsthand the spectacular Perseids meteor shower.

This family-friendly event will take place on Sunday, Aug. 12, at Bliss Creek Golf Course, 1 Golfview Lane in Sugar Grove, from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public, and food will be available for purchase. A quick-service food and beverage counter with hot dogs, bratwurst, pizza by the slice, salad, snacks, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages will be available before and during the event.

A series of knowledgeable speakers will whet the appetite for space exploration from 7 to 9 p.m.

Cosmologist and particle physicist Dan Hooper, a senior scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and a Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, will present “Radically Rethinking Dark Matter.”

“Cosmologists are confident that most of the matter in our universe is not made up of atoms but rather a substance known as dark matter,” says Hooper. “We do not, however, know exactly what dark matter is, how it behaves or how it was created in the early universe.”

In his presentation, Hooper will explain why physicists are sure that dark matter exists and will describe how recent experimental results have led scientists to think that this substance may be very different from how it has long been imagined.

Next, NASA Solar System Ambassador James Joel Knapper will give an update about several current NASA missions as well as future planned missions including the Mars InSight Lander, the Transitioning Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), the MARS 2020 Lander, new crewed spacecraft and rockets, outposts around the moon and more. He will also have a question and answer time on anything related to the space program—past, present or future.

Finally, NIU STEM educator Jeremy Benson will present “The Sky Tonight: What’s Visible and What Causes a Meteor Shower?” to prepare visitors to view the meteor shower.

Following the presentations, the group will move outside where they can view the shower with the naked eye. Visitors are welcome to use their own telescope or those provided by NIU.

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

“The event is timed to coincide with the peak of the annual Perseids meteor shower, so visitors should be able to see with the naked eye around 50 meteors falling each hour,” says STEM Café coordinator Judith Dymond. “We also have three fabulous speakers lined up, so the event will occur, rain or shine.”

NIU STEM Cafés are designed to increase public awareness of the critical role that STEM fields play in our everyday lives.

For more information, contact Judith Dymond at 815-753-4751 or email jdymond@niu.edu.

About the speakers

Dan Hooper

Dan Hooper is a senior scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and a professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago who specializes in the areas of dark matter, cosmic rays and neutrino astrophysics. He is the author of the books, “Dark Cosmos: In Search of our Universe’s Missing Mass and Energy (2006) and “Nature’s Blueprint: Supersymmetry and the Search for a Unified Theory of Matter and Force” (2008). His third book, “The Edge of Time: Racially Rethinking the Origin of Our Universe,” is planned for publication in 2019.

James Joel Knapper

James Joel Knapper is celebrating his tenth year as a NASA Solar System Ambassador. Knapper is an active member and officer of the local amateur astronomy group, the Kankakee Area Stargazers, where he presents monthly updates on NASA programs.

Jeremy Benson

Jeremy Benson is a STEM educator for the Northern Illinois University Center for P-20 Engagement and a member of NIU STEAM. As a presenter for the STEM Outreach in-school programs, Benson shares his passion for STEM with tens of thousands of K-12 students each year. He is also the director of NIU STEM summer camps, which introduce more than 500 campers to the joys of science, technology, engineering and math every summer.

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