NIU STEM Café: Stargazing, moon rocks and space exploration


DEKALB – On Thursday, Aug. 12, experts from NASA, Northern Illinois University and Argonne National Laboratory will introduce stellar science subjects such as Mars Rover technology and the Big Bang.

The speakers will begin at 7 p.m., then the audience will head outside to view the brilliant Perseid meteor shower.

This hybrid STEM Café will take place in person at Open Range Southwest Grill (1 Golfview Ln., Sugar Grove, IL 60554) and streaming online. Registration is free and open to the public. Food and drink are available for purchase from Open Range Southwest Grill. Register and learn more at

Every year, NIU’s Stargazing STEM Café corresponds with the height of the Perseid meteor shower, when meteors radiate from the Perseus constellation and appear throughout the sky. This year, we’re in for a special treat since the moon will be nearly dark, leading to an especially bright show.

Even if clouds or rain strike, never fear! The expert speakers will give attendees plenty of food for thought, rain or shine. We’ll also get the chance to view lunar rocks and meteorites on loan from the Johnson Space Center Educational Loan Program.

Two Argonne National Laboratory physicists, Amy Bender, Ph.D., and Lindsey Bleem, Ph.D., will discuss their experiences of examining the universe through the South Pole Telescope. We’ll learn how they’re analyzing cosmic microwave background from the Big Bang explosion 14 billion years ago to probe big questions about the origins and future of the universe. They’ll also discuss what it’s like to live and work at the South Pole Telescope – one of the most remote research stations on earth.

Next, NASA scientists and NIU alumni Marco E. Castillo and Christine A. Knudson will discuss the technology NASA is using to search for signs of life on Mars. We’ll learn how teams of NASA scientists and engineers use rovers to gather and interpret data from Mars and hear about new technologies they’re developing to search for evidence of ancient life on Mars and beyond.

Finally, NIU STEAM educator Jeremy Benson will introduce the NASA samples and prepare the audience for stargazing by introducing the what’s and why’s of the Perseid meteor shower and sharing what to watch for in August’s night sky. Attendees will get to view NASA’s moon rock and meteorite samples for 30 minutes before and 60 minutes after the presentations.

Registration is encouraged for this free STEM Café. This is an indoor and outdoor event, so please follow CDC mask guidelines and dress for the weather. Stargazing will be held rain or shine. Learn more and find registration links for the online and in-person events at

Northern Illinois University STEM Cafés are part of NIU STEAM and are designed to increase public awareness of the critical role that STEM fields play in our everyday lives. They are supported by Bayer Fund and Thermo Fisher Scientific. For more information, visit or contact Judith Dymond, Ed.D., at 815-753-4751 or