Nerdy Science Recipes for Your Next Party!

On a table sits a poster describing the colors of aurora and STEVE, and the instructions for making aurora hummus. A plate of aurora hummus and a plate of STEVE hummus sit in front of the poster, with ingredients to the left.

Aurorasaurus’ contribution to the Poster Party: make-your-own aurora and STEVE hummus!

Each year, Goddard Space Flight Center holds a collegial poster party for scientists and engineers to showcase their ongoing research. One of the award categories is “Best Science as Food.” What better opportunity to try ideas for hands-on education? Aurorasaurus and our colleagues Dr. Anne-Marie Novo-Gradac and Dr. Kevin Novo-Gradac decided to represent the Heliophysics department by coming up with new, multisensory ways to present scientific concepts.

Aurorasaurus used all-natural, homemade hummus in three flavors to introduce the colors of aurora, walking each person through hands-on science as they dished up their own aurora or STEVE. The Drs. Novo-Gradac converted the heat of different layers of the sun to Scoville units and made a progressively spicier flaming sun dip. Try both recipes to make your next party extra stellar!





Award-Winning Aurora(saurus) Hummus

by Elizabeth MacDonald and Laura Brandt


Two women hold up an award and plates of aurora and STEVE hummus

Aurorasaurus took home the 2020 Poster Party Best Science As Food Award!

Makes enough for a party!

Aurora Directions:

  1. Aurora instructionsSpread a black sesame hummus sky on a plate.
  2. The aurora occurs when energized particles excite atoms and molecules in the Earth’s ionosphere. These then release that energy as colorful photons. Oxygen molecules emit red or green. Nitrogen emits blue or pink.
  3. Imagine you are gazing north, with the northern horizon at the bottom center of the plate.
  4. Draw curving lines up from the horizon with red beet hummus. Red colors occur at the highest altitudes because the oxygen present there must take a relatively long, uninterrupted time to emit a red photon. At higher altitudes there are fewer particles, so fewer interruptions.
  5. Green emits more quickly and is the most common color. Draw lines of green spinach hummus underneath the red beet lines.
  6. Score the hummus aurora into rays with a fork, add sesame seed stars, and add pita chip or blue corn chip mountains.

STEVE Directions:

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  1. Spread a black sesame hummus sky on a plate.
  2. Imagine you are gazing north, with the northern horizon at the bottom center of the plate. STEVE occurs equatorward of the aurora, and arches east to west. It isn’t an aurora, but a “subauroral phenomenon.”
  3. Aurorasaurus and citizen scientists are studying STEVE (Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement). There is much to discover: the particles flow in an unconventional direction, and the colors appear at unusual altitudes.
  4. STEVE’s primary color is mauve, but it can have green “picket fence” features below the mauve. Add an arch of red beet hummus from east to west, with green spinach “picket fences” below.
  5. Finishing touches: add sesame seed stars and pita chip or blue corn chip mountains.

Warning: may cause great conversations about space weather, subauroral phenomena, and the awesomeness of community science. Click here for printable 11″x17″ posters.

Flaming Sun Dip

By Dr. Anne-Marie Novo-Gradac and Dr. Kevin Novo-Gradac

A tray holds four fluffy yellow layers of cheese in concentric containers.

Photo by Dr. Anne-Marie Novo-Gradac

The sun consists of about six layers, each with a different temperature. This dip platter uses black bean dip of varying levels of spice to represent the different temperature zones. The spice level in Scoville units is scaled to match the temperature of the solar layers. This recipe makes about 60 2oz servings of dip (about 7.4 pounds!) Keep in mind that if you use different size serving containers than the suggested ones, you may need to adjust the amount of dip.

A table lists the layers of the sun, their thicknesses, temperatures, the relative Scoville units illustrating the heat, and the types of peppers used in the recipe.

Table by Dr. and Dr. Novo-Gradac


  • Three 29 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Three 16 oz cans Old El Paso Green Chile Refried Beans
  • 1½ cups Herdez Salsa Casera–Hot (3/4 of a 16 oz jar)
  • 3/8 tsp garlic powder
  • ¾ cup corn oil
  • 1½ tsp cumin powder
  • 1¼ tsp salt
  • 3/8 tsp onion powder
  • 2-4 fresh habañero peppers
  • 8 oz yellow cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 8 oz Colby-Jack cheese, shredded
  • 8 oz Cabot Habañero Pepper Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • One 4 oz round container, such as a cupcake cup or plastic storage cup, to represent the Core of the Sun
  • One 8” round cake pan to represent the Radiative Zone
  • One 12” round cake pan to represent the Convective Zone
  • One 18” serving platter (can be larger) to represent the Corona

To prepare the basic bean dip, combine the first eight ingredients in a deep stockpot and heat until gently bubbling. Use a hand blender to puree the dip until smooth. Adjust seasoning as desired.

For the Sun’s Core: Puree the habañero peppers in a small food processor. Be VERY careful to avoid direct contact. Mix 2 Tbsp of the pepper puree with 3 oz of the bean dip and place it in the 4 oz container. Make extra if you think there will be a lot of people who want to test their tolerance for the core “temperature.”

For the Radiative Zone: Take half of the remaining bean dip and blend shredded habañero cheese into the dip until it has a “heat” level similar to a jalapeño pepper. Alternatively, you could blend habañero puree into the bean dip until it tastes right. However, if the puree is not perfectly smooth, there will be surprise hotspots in the dip! Put this dip in the 8” pan and press the 4 oz “core” container into the middle.

For the Convective Zone: Spread all of the remaining basic bean dip around the inner edge of the 12” cake pan, and then put the 8” pan in the middle. Then place the 12” pan in the middle of the 18” serving platter. Sprinkle habañero cheese over the core and radiative zone. Sprinkle cheddar over the convective zone.

For the Corona: Prepare a blend of Colby-Jack and habañero cheeses that tastes about as hot as red chili powder. Sprinkle the cheese blend on the 18” serving platter.

Enjoy! Anne-Marie emphatically suggests that you warn your guests before they try this dip!

A diagram depicts the layers of the sun: from inside to outside, the core, radiative zone, convection zone, chromosphere, and corona. The diagram also includes coronal streamers flowing outward.

Layers of the Sun. Credit: NASA/Jenny Mottar

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