Is there life out there? The eclipse could help answer the question.

Researchers will use knowledge from eclipse to help study far away planets

The amount of brain power that will be showing up in the San Antonio area to view the eclipse is going to be immense.

All disciplines of science, surrounding the eclipse, will be studied.

One such scientist making the trip is Julie Crooke, who has spent 34 years working on missions at NASA. For the last 18 years, her focus has been on the Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO) — a mission that aims to find life in our vast universe.

Julie Crooke, NASA researcher (NASA)

”For the very first time in our humanity, we are finally at a point where we can answer the question, are we alone in the universe?” said Crooke.

Amazingly, technology has reached a point where we may indeed be able to answer the question once and for all. That technology is in the form of what is being called the Habitable Worlds Observation, a future NASA space telescope project, which is currently slated to get underway in the mid-2040s. It’s much like its predecessors Hubble and James Webb, but with even more ability to look even farther into the depths of our universe.

A prototype of the Habitable Worlds Observatory telescope courtesy NASA (NASA)

”We have eight, some people argue nine, planets in our solar system,” said Crooke. “So, is that unique? Is that rare or is that common? How many? And so we want to go look at other solar systems and look at really hundreds of other planets and look at their chemical composition. I like to call it the zoology of planets.”

Make no mistake, Crooke is coming to San Antonio because the eclipse will be a sight to behold, and she tells us she’s never seen a total solar eclipse. But, she also plans to be joining fellow scientists from UTSA to do some serious research.

“Because the moon goes in front of the sun, as we see it, we can see the faint, kind of something like the atmosphere of the sun,” explained Dr. Chris Packham, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at UTSA. “We, although it’s there all the time, can’t see it because of the dazzling brightness of the sun. It’s similar with these planets around these distant stars, right? But we can’t see those planets because the stars are very bright. So, the Habitable Worlds Observatory will kind of make like, an artificial eclipse.”

”You’ve got a bright star that’s 10 billion times brighter than the reflected light. You’re trying to see from the planet, and that you have to block out that starlight,” explained Crooke, when comparing it to the solar eclipse.

This allows them to see details like the atmospheres of planets outside of the solar system. It’s a fascinating science that they hope the total solar eclipse will propel forward. Additionally, Crooke and Packham, and a host of other scientists will be sharing their passion for science with a younger generation who will be joining them for the eclipse.

“We ask a question, we build a mission to go find that answer, and it gives us that answer,” said Crooke. “But, it begs us to ask even more questions.”

Watch the live coverage of the eclipse from noon to 2 p.m. on April 8 on KSAT 12,, KSAT+, the KSAT Weather and News apps.

Here’s a list of some eclipse articles on KSAT:

About the Author

Justin Horne is a meteorologist and reporter for KSAT 12 News. When severe weather rolls through, Justin will hop in the KSAT 12 Storm Chaser to safely bring you the latest weather conditions from across South Texas. On top of delivering an accurate forecast, Justin often reports on one of his favorite topics: Texas history.

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