April’s total eclipse providing unique research opportunities in San Antonio

From the lab to the outdoors and even to outer space, multiple studies will be conducted during the total eclipse

It’s safe to say that a total eclipse is pretty rare, especially one that reaches totality right over South Central Texas.

Scientists all over the country, including some right here in San Antonio, are gearing up for the many opportunities that will stem from April’s total eclipse.

Here’s a look at what a few of those experiments will entail:

Monitoring animal behavior at the San Antonio Zoo

Zookeepers at the San Antonio Zoo previously conducted a study during October’s annular eclipse and will be watching certain animal species again during the upcoming total eclipse.

Dr. Charles Ritzler, Director of Animal Welfare at the San Antonio Zoo, said that so little is known about how zoo animals react during eclipses.

“There was one study done in 2017 at the Riverbank Zoo and found that during the total eclipse, animals seemed to be preparing for their end of day or evening activities, potentially because it got a little darker... so gorillas were seen walking closer to their indoor keeper areas, elephants were seen getting less active,” said Ritzler.

Here in San Antonio, Ritzler said that certain species like hippos, whooping cranes, flamingos, monkeys, gazelles, and Aldabra tortoises were monitored back in October to see how they reacted to the darkening sky.

“Our Aldabra tortoises throughout the day were fairly active, but then during totality, they were completely inactive, they didn’t move at all. And then our hippos, Timothy and Uma, they spent about a quarter of the time during totality nuzzled right up next to one another, so potentially may be looking for some comfort,” said Ritzler.

Ritzler also added that the zoo’s eclipse party on Sunday, April 7 will give attendees the opportunity to learn about what behavioral changes to look for in animals during the total eclipse. For details and a look at other events around the area, click here.

Research studies at UTSA

Scientists and researchers in UTSA’s Physics and Astronomy department will also be using the eclipse as an opportunity to conduct research.

“No matter what part of the astro field you’re in, it’s a big, conglomerative, a big gathering of the science community,” said Finis Stribling IV, Research Assistant at UTSA.

Stribling’s research covers the life cycle of a star, stardust, and stellar evolution. His studies use light from the Sun to infer what elements are present within certain stars, which ultimately helps to figure out what exactly is happening within them.

“It’s very similar to an eclipse. When the Sun gets blocked you can see the corona and it’s all light – you can tell what’s going on with the Sun.”

This is just one example of the many research opportunities the Stardust Group at UTSA is conducting during the eclipse.

“They’re doing a lot of things with insects and how insects interact. They’re doing a lot of things for the visually impaired community, using textiles, so they can feel what’s going on even though they can’t see the eclipse,” said Stribling.

Nationwide: Handful of projects selected by NASA

NASA chose five different projects to experiment during the April 8 eclipse:

  • Chasing the Eclipse with NASA’s High-Altitude Research Planes
  • Airborne Imaging and Spectroscopic Observations of the Corona
  • ‘Listening Party’ for Amateur Radio Operators
  • Solar Radiation’s Effects on Earth’s Upper Atmosphere Layers
  • Bringing the Sun’s Magnetic ‘Hot Spots’ Into Sharper Focus

Dr. Lisa Winter, Program Scientist with NASA, says that this year’s solar eclipse will be different (and perhaps even better!) than the one in 2017 due to the solar cycle of the Sun.

“Back in 2017, the Sun was in a solar minimum, so it was not as active, you didn’t see as many sun spots, there weren’t as many solar storms... but right now we’re in a solar maximum,” said Winter.

With that being said, the experiments chosen this year will allow researchers and scientists to see the differences in the Sun during this part of the solar cycle, as well as give them an opportunity to try out new technology.

“They’re testing new technology that could be used for future NASA missions... so that makes certain projects stand out even more as being more important for future space exploration,” said Winter.

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About the Authors

Meteorologist Mia Montgomery joined the KSAT Weather Authority Team in September 2022. As a Floresville native, Mia grew up in the San Antonio area and always knew that she wanted to return home. She previously worked as a meteorologist at KBTX in Bryan-College Station and is a fourth-generation Aggie.

Andrew Wilson is a digital journalist and social media producer at KSAT.

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