PHOTO BY ADAM BAKER

Strolling the hallways of West Texas A&M University, Evan Guerrero doesn’t look much different from your average student. Sure, he might attract attention with his confident good looks, his long, silky hair, or his personal-trainer physique. Your eyes might even be drawn to his sharply designed T-shirts, with eye-catching logos reading “Quantum Mechanics” or “Electromagnetism”—T-shirts that are part of the ever-evolving brand that is “Evant Horizon.” 

What would not be immediately clear is that this bright-eyed young man is a rising star in the dual worlds of astronomy and social media, an assured content creator with more than two million followers on TikTok. 

In truth, it’s almost unfathomable how rapidly Evan Guerrero’s star has risen. In the way that a young Neil deGrasse Tyson took the astronomy world by storm a generation ago, Evan Guerrero seems poised to do the same—and for many of the same reasons. Rising to fame in the 1990s, Tyson didn’t look or sound like our collective idea of an astronomer; there were no pocket protectors or coke-bottle glasses, no endless computations on dry-erase boards. Instead, here was a funny and engaging Black scientist from the Bronx, cracking wise about red dwarfs and solar flares. 

Like his hero Tyson, Guerrero breaks the old-school astronomer mold. Long-haired and Latino, hailing from an out-of-the-way city on the High Plains of Texas, fit and muscular, Guerrero has gained prominence for his irreverence and charm. Oh, and did we mention how funny he is?

Beginnings

Sometimes, it’s the smallest decisions that have the biggest impacts on our lives. For Evan Guerrero, that fateful decision came in the form of an online purchase. It was 2014, and he was working as a grocery sacker at Market Street, earning his own money for the first time in his life. In the evenings, the high schooler had become hooked on a PBS documentary series about the universe, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

During the day, while filling paper-or-plastics with egg cartons and cereal boxes, Guerrero found his thoughts returning to outer space. “Watching Cosmos,” he recalls, “there was an immediate thing that I could feel, this connection to astronomy, and to astrophysics in particular. It just drew me in.” That’s how, in an impulsive moment of online shopping, he spent some of that newly earned money on a telescope—a purchase that would change his life forever. “It was just a spur-of-the-moment purchase. It was on sale, and I figured, why not? It might be cool.” 

Looking up at the moon through his new telescope, then at Jupiter and the rings of Saturn, Guerrero felt himself drawn to the ineffable splendor of outer space. In some ways, the majesty of the cosmos echoed a longing within him that had always been there. “I don’t know what you would call it,” he explains. “I guess you could say it’s a top value in my life. Beauty. I really do find the universe, astronomy, and nature in general, just to be just overwhelmingly, breathtakingly beautiful. I think that’s what I connected with at that time. It’s just the vast expanse of space, the infinitude—the overwhelming awe of it. That really captured me.”


An Expanding Universe

After high school, Guerrero made another fateful decision: He chose to take a couple of years off from school so he could travel. He always had a sense that he would go to college, but he wasn’t totally sure what he’d study. Guerrero has myriad interests outside of astronomy, including physical fitness—he currently works as a personal trainer at Verdure, a health club in southwest Amarillo—and he wanted to simply let himself be for a while, to travel to some national parks and let his future develop at its own pace. 

He’d also always had a sense that he would attend West Texas A&M, and that’s where he eventually enrolled at the conclusion of his gap years. Even though WT is not as renowned for its astronomy curriculum as it is for, say, agricultural sciences, Evan found himself drawn once again to studying the stars. “I was thinking, what can I dedicate myself to that seems like one of the grandest endeavors that I could embark upon? Studying the universe, and really understanding nature, just seemed like it to me.”

He knew the astronomy path would be arduous, but he wasn’t deterred. From the beginning, Guerrero has applied what he calls a “growth mindset” to his academic career—a concept he learned from the writer Carol Dweck. The idea has held the young scientist in good stead, bolstering him when he felt overwhelmed or when imposter syndrome began to creep in. “Growth mindset really has changed my life. This idea that you can improve on anything. You can learn anything. It’s not about being naturally smart. It’s just about a dedicated pursuit, knowing that you can improve, and just carrying that with you. You might not be good now, you might not be a natural, but if this is your interest and you like to pursue it, then you can get good at it.”

The Big Bang

Around this time, another of Guerrero’sinterests began to tug at him. The nascent astronomer has always had an interest in education, and he began to wonder how he might share with others some of the knowledge and enthusiasm he felt about the cosmos. In another bit of kismet, his sister introduced him to the social media platform TikTok, then exploding in popularity. Guerrero saw possibilities in the platform, and he decided to try his hand at making a few funny and informative videos about astronomy. 

His first few TikTok outings were a bit clumsy, as he tinkered with various approaches and learned to create and edit smooth videos. But he didn’t give up; on the contrary, he made two or three videos a day for several months without gaining much traction. Eventually, however, one of those videos did take hold. Big time.

Guerrero recorded a mock dialogue about the speed of light, a conversation in which he played both parts—a “genius” character and an interlocutor who is befuddled by astronomy’s mind-bending ideas. Guerrero went to sleep, not giving the video much thought. When he woke up the next morning, his phone had exploded with notifications, and his entire world had changed literally overnight. His new video had garnered five million views in a few hours.

That first speed-of-light video, which itself seemed to explode at lightspeed, would be the first of many to go viral. “It’s funny,” says Guerrero, “most of my biggest videos all have to do with the speed of light. ‘Is the universe expanding faster than the speed of light?’ That one has 15 million views. I have one called ‘What’s the speed of dark?’ That one has 20 million views. Another one was, “What’s the speed of gravity?’ That one had 15 million, too.”

It wasn’t long before the astronomy world took notice. Guerrero started getting approached by various science companies who were hoping to sponsor him. Today, the young scientist is contacted constantly by companies interested in engaging with Guerrero’s online audience. Guerrero remains conscious of his brand, though, always reluctant to seem like he’s fallen prey to gross commercialism. 

With that said, some offers seemed like a perfect, organic fit. One such opportunity came from Northrop Grumman, an aerospace enterprise instrumental in the construction of the James Webb Space Telescope. The largest optical telescope in outer space, the Webb Telescope regularly captures photos of such stunning beauty that they almost beggar belief. Guerrero leapt at the chance to be connected with such a monumentally important project. 

Networking opportunities like that one show just how thoroughly and impressively Evan Guerrero has set himself up for future success. An undergraduate at a small state university in West Texas, he’s already in contact with some of the most powerful forces in the aerospace industry—and all thanks to the power of social media.

The Future Is Bright

These days, Evan Guerrero isn’t seen as often in those WT hallways. Most of his classes occur online, as the university doesn’t offer the comprehensive array of classes Evan needs to complete an astronomy degree. The young social media phenom has yet to apply to grad schools, but it won’t be long until he takes that next step. Ultimately, he plans to obtain a PhD and make a life of educating people about astronomy. 

It might seem as though Guerrero’s path has been comparatively easy, or even predestined. That’s far from the case. “Growing up, I was never some math wizard,” he explains. “I was never really into STEM or into logical things. In fact, I would say my strengths, even to this day, are not in mathematics or complex logical thinking. My natural strengths are in things like writing and being creative.” 

Guerrero is careful to stress this point; he wants young people in the Panhandle—no matter what their passion is—to know that success is possible if you keep growing and learning in small ways every day. “The thing I want to get across is that this stuff, even though it might seem reserved for the geniuses among us, really isn’t. It’s just about perseverance. It’s about staying dedicated.”  

Author

  • Jonathan Baker

    Jonathan’s work has appeared in The Daily Beast, and he has been featured on The Other Stories podcast. Originally from Canyon, Texas, he now lives on the coast of Maine, where he writes crime novels set on the High Plains.

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