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Technology Today Podcast

Episode 65: Total Eclipse Over Texas

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On April 8, SwRI headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, and surrounding areas, will experience a rare total eclipse, the first in this region in centuries. Spectators in the path of totality, stretching from Mexico to Canada, can expect nighttime conditions in the middle of the day. As visitors descend on totality destinations, communities will encounter traffic tie-ups and crowds. If you want to witness this spectacular celestial event in person, now is the time to make eclipse day preparations and plans.

Listen now as SwRI Planetary Scientist Dr. Tracy Becker discusses total eclipse readiness, resources, safety and the eclipse’s impact on science.

Visit Solar Eclipses to see a map of the 2024 total eclipse path and to learn more about San Antonio eclipse events.


Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for clarity.

Lisa Peña (LP): We're counting down to a rare celestial event over Texas skies. On April 8, a total eclipse will shroud SwRI's home campus and surrounding areas in darkness while providing an opportunity to learn and witness a spectacular sight. We're getting eclipse ready with an SwRI's planetary scientist, next on this episode of Technology Today.


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Hello. And welcome to Technology Today. I'm Lisa Peña. We are counting down to an exciting, rare, total eclipse over SwRI home city, San Antonio, Texas. It's the first total eclipse over this area in hundreds of years. More on that coming up. Our guest today is Planetary Scientist Dr. Tracy Becker, who was our guest on Episode 53, Celebrating Women in STEM. She is back to help us prepare for the total eclipse and to tell us about her eclipse outreach in the community. Plus, she has an update on NASA's Europa Clipper mission. So much to cover today. Welcome back, Tracy.


Dr. Tracy Becker (TB): Thank you. Excited to be here.

LP: So this is our second eclipse-focused podcast episode. Back in September, we heard from Dr. Amir Caspi on Episode 59, and he shared eclipse facts, and safety tips, and told us about exciting SwRI science initiatives underway. So today we will recap some of that information and really dive into the total eclipse, which is coming up. So let's start with those eclipse details. It's happening on Monday, April 8. How far does that path of totality span? What areas will experience the full eclipse?

TB: Yes, so the total eclipse is going to start in Mexico and come up through Texas and basically cross the United States up to northern New York, Vermont, Maine, and a little bit into Canada. So Montreal will be in the path of totality, where you'll see the actual total eclipse occur. The width of the path is about 100 miles, so it's very narrow. But it will extend across the entire United States for parts of it.

LP: So a lot of communities getting ready for this amazing event. And so we'll discuss the eclipse from our perspective, again, here in San Antonio, Texas, and surrounding areas. How long will it last? What will be the best places to see the eclipse in our area?
total solar eclipse

The SwRI Eclipse Outreach Team has compiled resources and information, including an interactive eclipse map, in one place. Visit here to learn more about the April 8, 2024 total eclipse.

TB: So we're actually really lucky here in Texas because we're really situated in the best place to watch the eclipse. Ten of the largest cities that the eclipse goes over, four of them happen to be in Texas. Three of them are in Mexico, but four in Texas. So if you're in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, or Fort Worth, all of those cities are in or partially in the path of totality, where you'll get to see the full total eclipse.

But there's a lot of towns that are really more centered along that. So in Texas the best places to be, Eagle Pass, and Kerrville, Fredericksburg, Waco. All of those cities are very, very close to the center line. And the reason to be close to the center line of the path of totality is that that's where you're going to get the longest eclipse. As you get further and further away from that center line, the eclipse starts to get a shorter duration.

So along the center line, at the southern part of Texas it's about 4.5 minutes, which is a relatively long opportunity. In 2017, the total eclipse that crossed over the U.S., the longest segment, the longest duration was only about 2.5 minutes. So this one we get a little bit longer. And of course, being in Texas, being in any of these towns in Texas, another benefit is certainly warmer weather than being in the Northeast, but hopefully also clearer skies as well. Our fingers are crossed.

LP: And so I've looked at some of the maps. And so it looks like everything is getting started around noon.

TB: That's right. So we'll start to see the partial eclipse around 12:00 Central Time. And again, a lot of the rest of the United States will also see partial solar eclipses throughout. So if you're not in the path of totality, you'll see a partial eclipse, which is very cool, very exciting.

But if you're in that path of totality, at around 1:30 p.m. Central Time is when totality will occur. And that's when we will see that the moon is fully blocking the sun. And we're going to experience pure darkness and nighttime light conditions all of a sudden for about four minutes, between one to four minutes depending on what part of the path of totality you're in.

LP: So a lot of us here in this area are making plans. Where will we be April 8 at noon? And if you don't live in one of those outside areas where they'll get that four-plus minutes of totality, you might be thinking, I'm just going to drive out there. It's a quick drive. And then I'll go home afterwards. But let's talk a little bit about that. Not so fast, right?

TB: Definitely, it's going to be slow. So from what's been reported to me from 2017, especially small towns along the path of totality, the traffic got really, really bad. So leading up to the eclipse, there will probably be people slowly going out there. So starting early in the morning to find their spot that they want to watch the eclipse at. But when the eclipse is over, it may be a mad rush to get back into San Antonio, into towns with a lot more hotel accommodations and airports. And so you may want to prepare for a lot of traffic. From what I was told, something what took them an hour to get out to, took about two to three hours to get back from.

LP: And this was the 2017 eclipse up north.

TB: It went basically across almost the center of the United States, so around Oregon area out to Virginia. So it kind of crossed the Midwest to the East Coast.
eclipse glasses

When viewing the sun during an eclipse, you should use special solar viewers that are tested and meet rigorous safety standards. The ISO 12312-2 marked on viewers indicates filters approved for direct observation of the sun. Visit for the American Astronomical Society’s list of suppliers of safe solar viewers and filters.

LP: So based on what they experienced, we might just experience more traffic that day. So plan around all those extra cars on the road, extra visitors in town for sure. So let's talk about eclipse safety. This is so important. It's not a good idea just to gaze with your bare eye at any eclipse. So what is the correct way to view and enjoy the eclipse?

TB: The best way is to get yourself a pair of solar eclipse glasses. These are special glasses; they are not sunglasses. They are special glasses with a certain filter darkness. When you put these on, you can't see anything, unless you're looking towards the sun, because they're so dark. But that is the only way to really keep your eyes protected. That's true of any time. You should never be looking at the sun during the day, anytime it's out. And so the same goes for the eclipse. You really want to be wearing those types of glasses. If you do have a telescope, and you want to observe the eclipse with the telescope, there are special filters that can be added to those telescopes. But you want to make sure that those are on.

And if you don't have the eclipse glasses, which you can still buy now from even stores, like H-E-B. A lot of local grocery stores along the path of totality will be selling them for just $2 or so. So you can get any of those. If you do get yourself a pair of glasses, and you're not sure, you can also go to a website that's by the American Astronomical Society, and they list all of the approved vendors. And so you'll want to look for that. And you can look for the ISO number and make sure that ISO number is rated for looking at the sun without damaging your eyes.

LP: What numbers are we looking for when looking for appropriate eclipse glasses?

TB: So this is an international standard. It's ISO 12312-2. Again, you can also just look online and make sure the eclipse glasses that you have should indicate what company produced them. And you can go on to the website from the American Astronomical Society. They have one that's called And you should be able to find the list of approved vendors there. And so if the glasses are made by one of those companies, you should be OK.

If you are wanting to watch the eclipse, and you don't have a pair of glasses, the other way to experience the eclipse and see what's happening is to make a pinhole viewer. So you can either grab a colander, like what you would strain spaghetti with, or you can even just take a piece of paper and punch a hole through it. And you can basically project the sun through that hole or multiple holes in the case of the colander.

And what you'll see is that disk of the sun projected onto the ground. So you don't look through it with your eye. You let the light filter through that hole onto the ground. And then you'll see that circular disk of the sun get eaten away as the moon starts to cross it. So you'll start to see a crescent shape of the sun. If you're in the path of totality, at around the time of totality, look up the exact time of totality beginning, you can take your eclipse glasses off because at that point, it will be pure darkness. You can look up at the sun at that time. And you can see the prominences, these solar flares, basically these big loops coming off of the sun.
Dr. Tracy Becker

SwRI Planetary Scientist Dr. Tracy Becker and the SwRI Eclipse Outreach Team, which includes Institute scientists, engineers and staff members, are educating the community on the April 8 total eclipse. Becker is pictured here presenting at a SwRI event in fall 2023.

You'll be able to see all of that with your naked eye. And it's safe to do that at that time. But you want to make sure that you're only doing that when the moon is fully blocking the sun, so those four minutes if you're in the center of totality line or the two minutes if you're further out.

LP: So don't get that time wrong. You want to make sure when you're experiencing totality. Again, it'll be safe to view at that time. And it's only with a total eclipse you can do that with because if, let's say, an annular eclipse, as we experienced back in October, the sun is still peeking out. So you never want to look directly at the sun.

TB: That's right.

LP: So much great information. So giving you plenty of time to go out and get your eclipse glasses while you can, so you don't miss that. All right. To put into perspective how rare this opportunity is for our area. I love this fun fact, by the way. When was the last eclipse over San Antonio?

TB: The last total eclipse over San Antonio was May 26, 1397.

LP: Unbelievable.

TB: So as much as these eclipses do occur every year we do get some form of a solar eclipse. But the path of them, again, it's very narrow. And a lot of the eclipses end up being over the ocean because the majority of the Earth is the ocean. So to actually be in a place where you can see the total eclipse each year is more difficult than just going outside and seeing an eclipse, especially to be in that path of totality where it's only about 100 miles wide.

LP: So really, for this particular area and everyone in this path, it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I mean, we're talking about 627 years ago. So not everyone will see a total eclipse in their lifetime. And you're working to get that message out, that this is happening in our backyard. Don't miss it. Tell us about SwRI's Solar Eclipse Outreach Program. What are you doing? And where are you visiting?

TB: So we're doing a lot to try to get the word out there, also to use this as a learning opportunity. Hopefully, this is a chance for people in the community to just really start thinking about the way the universe works. It's a reminder.

It's an exciting opportunity to then sit back and say, hey, why did that happen? Why is the moon going in front of the sun? How do we know that that's going to happen? And maybe really inspire some kids to start thinking more about a career in science and engineering or adults to just really think about their place in the universe. And how does all of this mechanics work when it comes to the solar system? So we're doing a lot with that.

I'm super grateful to the Southwest Research Institute's support for some of our outreach and education efforts that we're doing. There's a team of us led by myself, Greg Fletcher, and Tony Magaro here at the Institute. And we have a team of volunteers, who have been going out to schools, going out to STEM education nights, STEM being science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. And it's been a lot of fun.

So leading up to the annular eclipse, we started working with the consortium of science education communities across San Antonio. So this includes the Scobee Education Center at the San Antonio College, the Witte Museum, the DoSeum, UTSA, the San Antonio library system, Girl Scout leaders, leaders of Parks and Recreation in San Antonio. So a ton of different people all gathering together for the past year, trying to plan how we're going to organize information to share and also make sure that we have experts at a lot of these locations so that people can learn what they want to learn during the eclipse or leading up to the eclipse.

So we've been working with them for various events. Leading up to the annular eclipse, we also worked very closely with the San Antonio Independent School District. With them, we did a teacher's event where we gave a lot of information about the eclipse to the teachers. And this way we were not just communicating with a handful of students. When we're reaching the teachers, then the teachers get to disseminate that information to thousands of students. So that event, I felt, was really exciting because we knew that the information and the excitement we were conveying to the teachers was going to flow then down to all of their students.

We also created videos about the eclipse, explaining the eclipse, explaining some of the science and the math and the studies that we do here at the Southwest Research Institute on the Moon and the Sun. And those videos were distributed to all of the thousands of students in the SAISD school district.v On eclipse day we had scientists and engineers, and other Southwest Research staff out at some of the schools, where they had viewing parties for the annular eclipse. So it's been really fun to work with that school district and getting to see the impact there.

We've also been working with Workforce Solutions Alamo to reach some of the rural areas and rural schools. We've done, again, various school event nights, school presentations. And I'm really grateful for the team of scientists, engineers, and other staff here at the Institute, who have gathered together to go out and work with these schools and work on these nights. For the annular eclipse itself, we had scientists and staff at different events, including at the Scobee Education Center, which is where I was, where we had something like 3,000 people pass through and experience the eclipse together, which was a lot of fun. 

And leading up to the total, one of our big collaborations right now is with SeaWorld. And so we're going to have presentations by two of our scientists here at the Institute. Kelly Miller and Ed Patrick are going to give presentations in the Orca Stadium, explaining what the eclipse is going to be like and then helping walk through the eclipse with all of the people at SeaWorld.

LP: What a fun venue to be able to do that.

TB: And what's really cool about that, too, what we've talked about with the SeaWorld folks is, how does the eclipse affect animals? And so you can actually then also experience how the animals are reacting.

LP: Do they know what's going on? Do they think it's night?

TB: Yeah, it's exactly what happens. There are all kinds of studies that are being done of what happens when the eclipse occurs. And so things like the birds will start thinking it's dusk. And they'll start flapping around like it's the early evening all of a sudden. And then all of a sudden, it's night basically to them. And they'll just be quiet. And the insects will come out and start chirping. So those are the types of sounds you can experience.

LP: For two to four minutes.

TB: Exactly. And then it'll ramp all back to normal.

LP: I'm sure it's confusing for them.

TB: Oh, probably. Yeah. Just as it was for humans until we kind of really figured it out.

LP: What's happening. Right. Good point.

TB: So that's just a handful of some of the things that we're doing. We'll be at different schools and working with different community partners. So there's a lot going on related to the eclipse. And it's really exciting to be able to be in the community and talking with everybody about it.

LP: What are some of your favorite tidbits of information to give students and your audiences?

TB: I think the one you pointed out. The last time that this was an opportunity over San Antonio being close to 400 years ago is something that usually excites and surprises people. I think explaining sort of why the eclipses happen and why they don't happen every month has been a lot of fun because, I think, we tend to think of things in 2D because we see them in textbooks.

So if you think about everything in only two dimensions, the Moon, and the Sun, and the Earth align in such a way that an eclipse should happen every single month. The Moon is going around the Earth every month. And so it should block out the Sun every month if we lived in a two-dimensional space. But because the Moon is actually on an incline as it orbits the Earth, that alignment isn't perfect.

So you have to think about things three dimensionally. And I think that's where we really start to pull our brains out of a textbook picture of the diagram of an eclipse and really start thinking about it in the real world and understand why things don't line up exactly the way that they could if we were to have an eclipse every month.

LP: So your reach is far and wide. I love all the different organizations you're in front of with this outreach program. So what do you enjoy about your community visits? You shared a little bit about that, but what is the spark for you?

TB: I think it is fun, just exciting the adults and the kids alike. Again, with some of those stats people are just surprised, and I love that part of it. I also just love when people are fascinated by our universe. So the fact that the eclipse gives people the opportunity to think about that mechanics. Like, what is happening? Why is this happening?

And then putting those pieces together, doing an interactive hands-on activity where they can understand, oh, this is how that shadow from the Moon is cast onto the Earth. And why is that? Why is the path so narrow? Why is it only on one part of the Earth? And things like that. And when you're in the classroom, and you're using a flashlight, and you're holding up little balls in the air and stuff, and all of that really comes together, and things start to click, that's really, really fun for me.

And again, just the questions that I get and the excitement in, again, both kids and adults eyes when they're learning about all of this. I think that space in general is something that fascinates and interests so many people. It's one of those things that people are, no matter what age you are, no matter where you grew up, space is something we've thought about. And most people think it's pretty cool.

LP: And that's why there are so many movies and TV shows based around space because we're all a little intrigued about what's happening up there.

TB: That's right.

LP: So we love hearing from you, a planetary scientist to break it down for us and help us understand it a little better, especially with this huge event coming up, the eclipse. So have you ever witnessed a total eclipse in person?

TB: I actually have not seen a total eclipse in person in the path of totality. I did see in 2017, here in Texas, we saw a partial eclipse. And I was giving a talk at a local library. So I got to see it outside. But again, it was only partial. So I have not actually been in the path of totality for an eclipse.

LP: And I think that brings home how rare this is. Our in-house planetary scientist has not seen this in person, a total eclipse. So again, if you're in the area, you need to look up, with safety in mind of course, and get a glimpse of that and experience it because it's such a rare thing to be able to witness. So you have seen total eclipses on video or in pictures. So what can spectators expect during the eclipse?

TB: So what we will experience in the path of totality is, again, that sort of sudden change from day to night. And this is truly one of the times where 99.99% does not round up to 100. If you are not in the path of totality, 100% in the path of totality, you will not experience the day-to-night transition that will happen. But for those of us in the path of totality, we will suddenly experience what feels like evening and then complete darkness pretty rapidly.

And again, the birds, they should be reacting. The insects might start chirping. There might be a temperature drop, depending on where you are. And you'll just suddenly be in darkness for four minutes if you're in that center line. And from what I'm told, this is life changing for some people. Some people will become eclipse chasers for the rest of their lives after experiencing one of these. And so it might be that kind of a movement for you. Or it might just be something that you remember for the rest of your life as just a really cool, weird, bizarre experience.

LP: I can understand that. Just seeing the annular eclipse back in October, which our area experienced, it was kind of emotional looking at it. I did get a little watery-eyed seeing it. So I can see where for some people it's like, as you said, life changing. So the next total eclipse over the U.S., but not in this area, will be in 2044.

So how do scientists figure out eclipse timing? I know it seems like it makes some sense. But can you break it down for us? How do when the last one occurred? And when we'll see the next one? Especially when we're talking about, I mean, you can go back hundreds of years and go forward hundreds of years.

TB: So really, it just comes down to the geometry and the physics, so understanding the mechanics of how the Moon orbits the Earth, how the Earth orbits the Sun, and again, that incline of the Moon around the Earth, how inclined that orbit is. And so you having computers really helps because you can kind of put all that information into the system and let the computer kind of run forward and backwards in time to realign everything.

And it is following what we know. We understand gravity well enough to understand, how fast is the Moon orbiting the Earth? And therefore, where is the Moon going to be at all of these different times? And when does that perfect alignment occur? So really it is just the basics of understanding the mechanics of our solar system and how orbits work.

LP: And knowing those numbers, knowing that data. Really cool. So of course, seeing the eclipse, as we've been talking about, it will be absolutely phenomenal. But you are considering all members of our community, including the low vision and blind community. And they can also experience the eclipse. So how can they enjoy this rare opportunity?

TB: So like we talked about earlier, the sounds are going to be a big part of the eclipse, hearing how the animals are reacting, the local birds and the insects. We get to experience that. If there is a temperature drop, we can feel it that way. There are small devices that people can use that actually convert the energy coming from the Sun into sound.

So if you have one of these sound devices, or you can build a sound device. There's information online how they can be built. It will basically be accepting the sunlight at a certain intensity. And it'll be creating a sound related to that intensity of the sunlight. And then as the intensity of the sunlight dips down into nothing, the frequency of the sound box will change. So you can experience it that way.

And also, we have a few of the solar eclipse Braille books here on campus. So if anybody in the local area would like to request that we bring out one of these eclipse books, these books basically in Braille show the diagram of why the eclipse occurs. It explains sort of where the sun is, the moon, the shadow being cast onto the Earth, and then where across the Earth the eclipse will be occurring. So these were really popular in 2017 as well. And we're fortunate to have a handful of copies here at Southwest Research for the 2024 eclipse giving that diagram.

LP: Does that require a special visit? Or is it something you can just give out? Or how does that work?

TB: We only have a limited number of them. But if there's a community that would be interested in one of the scientists, or engineers, or staff members from Southwest Research to come out with and bring to an event, we would be really happy to do. that.

LP: That's amazing.

TB: We also have provided one of those to the central library of San Antonio. So downtown, one of the copies of the books is there.

LP: So another resource I want to talk about. I mentioned to you, I'm having a hard time figuring out how long different areas will experience the eclipse. I've seen all these different maps. I don't know which one is the most accurate. And you said, oh, there's an app for that. So can you talk to us a little bit about the app that you're using to decipher location and how long they'll be in totality?

TB: There are probably a few that work well. The one that I've been using is called Totality. And it was created by an astrophysicist named Dr. Jeff Bennett. So that one you can go ahead and download. And what's nice about that is you can put in a location, or you could just say like, find the closest eclipse to me, and it'll tell you when the eclipse begins and how long of a duration you'll get in totality if you are in totality.

LP: Such a neat tool because you can put in any address. So right after we record, I will be downloading that because it's really cool that you're able to do that. So again, another great resource for listeners. So as we've mentioned a couple of times, our area experienced an annular eclipse in October 2023, just a few months ago. So what did that eclipse provide in terms of information and knowledge? And how did it help you prepare for this eclipse?

TB: So the annular eclipse really was a nice trial run for what we're going to be doing with outreach and education for the total eclipse. For me, that what's been my focus. And so I think that the annular eclipse really woke up a lot of people in the area to the fact that this event was happening. A lot of people found out about it only a day or two before the annular eclipse. And at least, then in that moment, they also learned that in six months there would be an even more exciting eclipse in the area.

So that's been really great because it's really allowed for people to start preparing, schools to be asking for experts, people to be doing the articles, and the newspapers and the news to really get the information out there. And so that's been really one of the best parts that's come from the annular leading up to the total eclipse on April 8.

LP: Like, how lucky are we to have gotten that little warm up for the big event? Really cool.

TB: Yeah, extremely lucky. I mean, again, the fact that the path of totality only crosses over San Antonio every 400 years or so. And then the fact that we also happen to be at that intersection where that X marks the spot of the annular and the total all within six months is very, very rare. So we were really lucky to be sort of having this year of solar, celestial events, which is very exciting.

LP: So neat. So amazing to see. So what do you want to learn from the total eclipse? What type of data are you looking for?

TB: So with a total solar eclipse there's a lot of really exciting science that can be done. It's an opportunity from the ground, from the Earth, to study the Sun's outermost layers, and the storms, and the flares that are happening off of the surface of the Sun. Usually, the disk of the Sun is so bright that it overwhelms our eyes. And we can't really see what's going on. We also have our atmosphere to contend with. And so it's hard to actually do a lot of really great solar studies from the Sun. Now, we do have telescopes that have basically a filter in the center of them, called coronagraphs, that block out that disk of the Sun so that we can do some of those studies. But it makes it more complicated. And we can do that from space. But it's also a little bit more complicated. So this is a really cool opportunity for that type of science to be done. We'll see those prominences, the storms, these flares.

And this is partly what the PUNCH mission, which is one of the NASA missions that's being led out of the Southwest Research Institute, is going to be studying but from space. Another way that we really do a lot of really interesting science is actually to focus on Earth. So we will get that very quick transition from daylight to nighttime if you're in that path of totality. And so we can have this sped-up version of what happens to our atmosphere when there's a sudden drop in temperature, a sudden drop in light coming from the Sun.

We're also constantly getting bombarded with particles from the Sun, plasma from the Sun, that's interacting with our ionosphere, our atmosphere. And so seeing what happens when that suddenly turned off just for that short period of time has really important science implications for the Earth. And we really want to know a lot about the Sun and how it interacts with our atmosphere, and ionosphere, and those particles because if the Sun ever has a big flare or a big storm directed in our direction, that's where it could affect our GPS systems. It could affect our way of life if we're in the path of one of those large solar storms.

So we want to be ready for that kind of stuff too. So we're getting that science on the Earth's atmosphere and how it responds, plus all of that science about what are the animals doing and how do they respond? Plus, actually the opportunity to study directly at the Sun. Me, personally, I look at the colder, farther-away things. So I'm not looking forward to any direct data per se. I'm really looking forward to actually getting to see those prominences and those loops coming off of the Sun for the first time with my own eyes. And I think that's what I'm most excited about. There will also be a comet that might be visible in the direction of the Sun that we wouldn't be seeing because it's usually too bright to look towards the Sun and, therefore, see a comet. So during the eclipse, you might be able to spot a comet as well as other planets at that time.

LP: Wow. So much happening all at once. In these few minutes you're going to see something amazing and rare. But again, so many opportunities packed in to learn. And I did want to mention that in that Episode 59, that I talked about at the top with Dr. Amir Caspi, he talks about the Citizen CATE and the WB-57 missions, which will be happening from, basically, it's science from the air and the ground at the moment of the eclipse. So more on SwRI science initiatives in that episode as well. But again, so much to cover and see in this brief snapshot of time. But I think we're going to make the most of it.

So Tracy, our focus is on the eclipse today. But while you are here, we cannot pass up this opportunity. We absolutely need a Europa Clipper update. So last time we spoke to you, you told us about your work on the Europa Clipper mission, set to explore Jupiter's icy moon Europa. It is launching this year, and you are the deputy principal investigator of the Europa Clipper ultraviolet spectrograph. So how are you preparing for this launch coming up?

TB: With lots of work right now.

LP: Busy time.

TB: So our instruments, at the Southwest Research Institute, we built two of the nine instruments that are on board that mission, the mass spectrometer and the ultraviolet spectrograph. And our instruments are built. They're already attached to the spacecraft. They're ready to go. The spacecraft is in a lot of its final stages of being tested. And so right now we're doing a lot of work to test our ability to communicate with the instruments. So we're doing a lot of those software tests, making sure that we can program our instrument to operate as expected once it's out in space.

Meanwhile, there's also a lot of testing going on the spacecraft itself. As the science community, we're really focused on what science we're going to be achieving while we're orbiting Jupiter and flying by Europa. We get these couple hour passes of Europa. And we want to make sure that we're optimizing the science and using our resources, our data volume, everything as efficiently as we can. And so, are we pointed at the most interesting places on Europa during that pass? How is our instrument going to get the most data we can possibly get in each pass? And so that's really where our focus is right now, is making sure the science is going to be perfect. And we're expecting that no matter what we do, we're going to be surprised. And so we want to be prepared for all of the different ways we can change how we observe with our instrument, just in case something really surprising happens, and we want to capture more information in a way we weren't expecting.

LP: So along with counting down to the eclipse, you are counting down to this October launch. Again, exciting time for you as a planetary scientist. So last year we talked to you during Women's History Month in March. And you're back. The timing is great, so we can talk about the eclipse. But I also wanted to acknowledge that it is Women's History Month, celebrated in March. And you're making history as we just heard with your space science initiatives and no doubt inspiring so many children and girls with your outreach. So what is your message for young girls interested in space science?

TB: So International Women's Day, March 8, one month before the total eclipse, so that connection is very much there. For girls interested in exploring space and doing careers in science and math, studies show that it's often a social pressure that causes girls to avoid going into to STEM careers, just this idea that around the time of fourth grade where typically both boys and girls indicate an equal interest in science. It starts to decline after around that. And that's because as humans we're inclined to be part of society in the way that we see society interact. So even sometimes well-intended moms, or aunts, or uncles, or whoever might say, oh, you're a girl, and you're good at science. That's great. I'm so glad that you're good at it. Usually, girls aren't that good at it.

And as much as you think that's a compliment, that also can still put into a girl's head that like, oh, I'm different. And generally, for a lot of girls that's not really a goal, to be that different, especially at that age when you're entering middle school, and you're figuring yourself out, and where you kind of are in society. Actually, Dr. Sally Ride had a program that reached out to fourth-grade girls specifically for that reason.

I do think that that perception of a scientist is changing significantly, though. And I think with even with social media, the way that scientists are portrayed in movies, it's not just this back room, solo scientists by themselves doing all the chemical experiments. We are seeing a lot more women at the forefront of movies, and Instagram, and TV channels, and TV programs. And so women are being portrayed more and more often in roles of science and engineering. And I think that's fantastic.

I hope that the group of scientists and engineers here at Southwest Research that have been doing outreach, I'm certainly not the only woman doing that. So I'm appreciative to our team, who are also going out there and showing that if you're interested in the field, then you can be in it. And there's no reason not to be. So really what helps make science, engineering, and society progress is that diversity of thought, and the diversification, and unique experiences that different people can bring to an area of work.

And so it shouldn't matter what your gender or your abilities are, or your race, or anything like that. That actually adds to the pile. So you want to bring that diversity of thought and experience into the conversation. And then that actually is where we can move forward more quickly in all of these areas of science, and math, engineering, and society in general. So I hope the message that girls are getting today is not just, you can be just as good as a boy in science. That's not the goal. The goal is that your experience, your unique thought process that comes into it is going to be heard, and useful, and propel us forward.

LP: Really such an important message, a strong message, during this Women's History Month. So thank you for sharing that. We've covered so much today. I gave you a full plate of items to talk about, everything eclipse, the Europa Clipper mission, Women's History Month. But there is one more thing I'd like to say. I want to say congratulations on the new baby. Dr. Tracy Becker is just back from parental leave. So I just want to say thank you for being here and making time for us. Maybe you can do a quick baby announcement here, our first Technology Today Podcast baby announcement.

TB: Sure. So we're excited to welcome our second son, Finley O'Connell. He was born on January 19 and right in time for seeing his first eclipse.

LP: Yeah, he didn't want to miss the total eclipse. Well, welcome, Finley. Welcome to the SwRI family. And again, congratulations. And thank you for coming right back to work and jumping right in front of the mic here to talk to us about the eclipse coming up. I mean, you just hit the ground running. There wasn't much lag time for you in between leave and getting right back to it. Long to do list.

TB: That's right. There's a lot to do. There's a lot of exciting opportunities to get the message out there about the eclipse and then, of course, to be part of it. So we want to make sure that everyone who can get into the path of totality is getting there and to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event.

LP: All right. Such an inspiration. Thank you again, Tracy, for sharing so much great information with us. We are eclipse ready. April 8 is the big day. Get your glasses. Make a plan. You don't want to miss this. Thank you for being here.

TB: Thank you.

And thank you to our listeners for learning along with us today. You can hear all of our Technology Today episodes, and see photos, and complete transcripts at Remember to share our podcast and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

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Ian McKinney and Bryan Ortiz are the podcast audio engineers and editors. And sometimes, co-host. I am producer and host, Lisa Peña.

Thanks for listening.


SwRI studies the dynamical connections that link the Sun, the solar wind, and the magnetized plasma environments of the planets and moons of our solar system. We develop the technology and knowledge to detect and predict space weather — extreme conditions in space that affect people and technology.