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Stargazing STEM Café reimagined

August 10, 2020

Are you interested in viewing the brilliant Perseid meteor shower, but don’t have your own telescope? NIU STEM educator Jeremy Benson says you don’t need to worry. “The telescope isn’t going to help you for the meteor shower – your best tool is just a comfortable lounge chair you can lie back in and look up at the sky!” Benson’s other tips include getting as far away from any lights as you can and picking a spot where you can see as much of the night sky as possible. “Those meteors streak across the sky pretty fast, so the bigger your viewing area is, the better,” he says.

Jeremy Benson

The Perseid meteor shower will reach its peak between August 11 and 13, and Benson will be one of three speakers at the upcoming Stargazing STEM Café on August 11, 2020. He’ll give additional stargazing tips, explain what causes a meteor shower, and give the audience – both in person and live-streaming – a chance to view the night sky projected through his new digital telescope eyepiece.

For nearly a decade, the annual stargazing STEM Café has brought people together each August to learn about space and view the breathtaking Perseid meteor shower.

“This is one of our most popular events every year,” says STEM Café coordinator Judith Dymond. “People of all ages are excited to marvel at the night sky and to hear from NIU faculty and other experts about a wide range of space-related topics. We’ve had speakers discuss the possibility of life on other planets, the history of space travel, the geology of Mars and other fascinating topics. It’s something we look forward to all year.”

This year, Dymond knew the event would have to look different. But with the help of the e-learning experts at NIU’s Digital Convergence Lab (DCL), her fellow educators from NIU STEAM, and experts from NASA and Fermilab, Dymond has put together a hybrid event that combines low-tech outdoor fun with the latest streaming technology. The chance to test out the new technology, including live-streaming the feed from Benson’s new digital telescope lens, also offers the team a chance to prepare for this year’s reimagined STEM Fest – a virtual STEM Fest experience with online events spanning the month of October.

Joining Benson on August 11 will be Fermilab scientist Chris Stoughton and NASA Ambassador Joel Knapper.

Chris Stoughton

Stoughton will discuss his work at Fermilab, which involves using microwave radiation to map the universe. He plans to give a brief history of what cosmic microwave radiation has taught us so far and what scientists are currently doing to learn even more.

“I’d like to take the mystery out of cosmic microwave radiation,” Stoughton says. “I hope to give a glimpse into scientific endeavor and show how similar it is to what most people do day to day.”

Joel Knapper

Knapper will speak about the NASA Artemis program, which in 2024 will bring astronauts to the surface of the moon for the first time in over 50 years.  He’ll talk about the machines NASA will use to get there as well as what they hope to accomplish.

“I want people to get excited and inspired by the exploration of the moon as the precursor to exploring Mars,” Knapper says. “It may surprise people that we found no water in the moon samples brought back from the Apollo astronauts 50 years ago; however, the moon turns out to have a large amount of water.”

The STEM Café will take place on August 11 at 7 p.m. Attendees will be able to choose between an outdoor in-person STEM Café at Open Range Southwest Grill in Sugar Grove ($15 to register a group of up to four; registration includes one NIU STEAM throw blanket) and a free live-stream of the event.

Registration and more details are available at

Northern Illinois University STEM Cafés are sponsored by NIU STEAM and are designed to increase public awareness of the critical role STEM fields play in our everyday lives. For more information, contact Judith Dymond, Ed.D., at 815-753-4751 or email [email protected].