When Brian May was a working-class young man in London, he began building his own telescope. He then built his own electric guitar. Two days after he graduated in physics, he was on stage with his band, opening for a Pink Floyd concert. It was 1968.
Today, Mayo, 76, is recognized as one of the greatest guitarists in rock history. This month he returns to the road with the latest incarnation of Queen, the legendary band he co-founded with Roger Taylor and the late Freddie Mercury. Also in October, he will publish a book called Atlas of Asteroid Bennu 3D images for you.
I met Mayo in 2015, when I was working with the mission NASA New Horizons. Now he is a friend. We share a fascination with the stars (Brian earned his PhD in astrophysics in 2007), as well as a deep and abiding love for animals (he is an animal welfare activist). I’ve been to many of their concerts, and often meet other people backstage who are Queen fans and Nerds From space (including a NASA employee who once appeared with… A copy of the doctoral thesis for the month of May).
Nadia Drake (ND): I bet many people who know him as a musician have no idea who Dr. May is, who earned his PhD studying zodiacal dust, a cloud of rocky grains that fills interplanetary space in our solar system. why did you choose this topic?
Brian May (BM): I knew you would ask. When I was doing postgraduate studies in infrared astronomy at Imperial College in the 1970s, one of the professors was conducting spectroscopic studies of zodiacal dust. Work has been halted because most of the equipment is no longer working. So they asked, “Do you want to take care of this?” When I looked at the project, I thought to myself: “This is great.” It was something that only a few people did.
ND: What do you want to know about dust?
BM: Simply where it comes from and where it goes. Everyone was studying the light reflected by the zodiacal cloud, but we were seeing how that cloud moved, following an absorption line in the Sun’s spectrum, which is subject to a Doppler shift due to the movements of the dust relative to the Earth. We thought that some of the dust must be debris kicked up by comets, and that a certain amount could come from asteroids. I had this crazy idea that a small component could be interstellar, because the solar system moves through space. I was considered crazy, and my supervisor told me: “Don’t put that in your thesis, because everyone will laugh at you.”
ND: But was I right?
BM: The funny thing is that I thought I could see an interstellar element flowing through the solar system. But I never published this piece of data, because after all there were large margins of error in my measurements. Looking back, I wish I had, because today we know that there are apparitions among the stars all the time. Which “Oumuamua.”the interstellar object that passed by us in 2017. Now there’s a big chunk of dust that definitely didn’t come from inside our solar system, and there’s no telling what we’ll find next, right?
Natalia: Now you work a lot with asteroids and other small objects in the solar system. Where does this interest come from?
BM: It’s a passion, actually. It is related to my interest in holography. All objects visited by unmanned spacecraft are amenable to 3D stereo imaging – for these objects, two different views of an object are needed to create a stereo pair. It is a basic fact that everything in the solar system rotates. This is fortunate, because rotation gives us the pair of viewpoints we need from slightly different angles. Basically, I search for data from all space missions with a colleague in Italy and use it to create 3D images.
In March 2023, King Charles knighted May to honor her services to music and charity.
We started communicating with some teams at NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and once they saw what we were doing, word spread to other missions. Our first big flyby was New Horizons, which made history with its flyby of Pluto.
ND: I remember meeting you during the flight in 2015. It was a really fun moment!
Seeing the data coming in was one of the best experiences of my life. We saw what Pluto looks like for the first time and got two different views: one just before the flyby, and one that arrived as the spacecraft passed by. I collected some of them and made the first 3D image of Pluto.
I’ve done a lot of good things in my life – I’ve been very lucky – but that was one of the most exciting moments I remember: suddenly seeing Pluto, which in my childhood had been a white dot, in all three glorious aspects. – Dimensional details. It was a priceless emotion.
ND: You are now working with the team Osiris RexWhich sent a spacecraft to the asteroid Bennu.
BM: This mission proved that holography isn’t just for fun; It can also be useful. Stereo can give us an instinctive sense of the terrain that can help us choose where to land. This was crucial Pino: The mission was to collect a sample from the asteroid. So we had to work on taking stereo images of all possible landing sites. I think there were 24 samples. We did this, helped choose the final site, and samples were collected safely.
Natalia: What will we learn from studying this asteroid?
BM: Asteroids are like time capsules from the early solar system. We can learn a lot about what this site looked like 4.5 billion years ago by studying primitive materials from Bennu.
It is also much more important than people realized until recently. They have long been viewed as potential risks. It is also possible to find sources of minerals, and there is talk of extracting them. But what is becoming increasingly clear is the role that asteroids played in the creation of Earth, in our existence on it, and in the existence of the biosphere here, providing water and organic molecules.
Suddenly, we realize that asteroids, in addition to being harbingers of death and destruction, must have played a crucial role in creating life on Earth. And then we started to respect them more.
Natalia: What unanswered questions in astronomy, astrophysics or planetary science attract you most today?
BM: Many things. I’m excited about the idea of a multiverse. It’s funny how crazy these concepts start out and then everyone talks about them as something so normal.
ND: One of my favorite memories of your concerts is when the special effects put you on an asteroid, surrounded by planets, playing Dvorak’s New World Symphony. (Image at top).
BM: I’m planning a new look [desses efeitos] For the next tour in the USA. I will continue to follow this path. I love him. And those little planets around me are real things; They are not predictions.
ND: It’s at the center of its own planetary system! This is typical of his approach to art and science: the combination of these fields. Why? Are they really different from each other?
BM: This is central to my life and beliefs. I was told that I could not do art and science as I progressed through my studies. And I really resented that, because I really like both of them. I feel like I spent the rest of my life trying to prove them wrong. I’ve discovered that artistic thinking and scientific thinking are just different parts of the same thing. that it Continuity. They are inextricably linked. It requires both sides to work to their full potential.
ND: Creativity seems to be another common element. To be successful in both fields, you have to be willing to break rules, test new ideas, and ultimately, help people see the world in a different way.
BM: Yes, that’s true. In fact, I think I didn’t have that talent as a PhD student, or maybe I didn’t have enough confidence to apply it. When Queen started moving, when it looked like we might actually be a real rock band, I was so relieved that I had given up my thesis to get a Ph.D. I actually wrote it and showed it to my supervisor, but he rejected it and told me I had to leave and do more research. I’ve always felt that science has benefited from me being gone and playing music for 30 years – and I hope it will also benefit from my return.
ND: Are you excited about Back to the road?
BM: I’m excited, but also nervous. I have spent a long time away from home, and nowadays it is not easy for me. But other than that, it must be nice to get out and do what we do again, right?
This article was originally published in English in the October US edition of National Geographic magazine, and is now available in the same language on the website nationalgeographic.com.
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