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Queen Guitarist Brian May is Now a New Horizons Science Collaborator

As new images were transmitted from Pluto, the rock-star-turned-astrophysicist rubbed shoulders with his heroes

Astrophysicist Dr. Brian May is recognized during a July 17, 2015 New Horizons science briefing at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. May spent a long birthday weekend with the science team, attending two morning science plenaries, a meeting with the Student Dust Counter group, and working on stereo images of Pluto with the Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team. (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
smithsonian.com

As historic data from Pluto rolled in from NASA’s New Horizons probe earlier this month, the team had some help examining the data from a new scientific collaborator: Queen guitarist Brian May.

May might be best known for the guitar riffs in songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Fat Bottomed Girls and We Will Rock You, but he is more than just a world-famous rock star: he’s also an astrophysicist. Back in 1974, May was enrolled in in a PhD program at Imperial College in London studying light reflected off of dust in the solar system. But he was also in a little band called Queen, which was becoming an international sensation at the same time. May put his studies on hold, but finally completed his thesis in 2007 — 36 years after he became a star.

A few weeks ago, as New Horizons passed by the planet Pluto, May stood by alongside the NASA team helping to sort and interpret new data as it was transmitted, according to NASA. In a post on his blog, May wrote that “the Gods of the Underworld must have been with me, because I was there when the first...full-planet picture was downloaded from the probe.”

In addition to sifting through some of the images and information gleaned from New Horizons, May compiled the first high-quality stereo image of Pluto. Single-lens cameras produce images that look as if you just covered up one of your eyes, but a stereo photograph can appear to be three-dimensional with the help of a stereoscope. On his blog, May writes that he has long been a fan of making stereo images, and was excited for the chance to work with the new Pluto photographs as they arrived on Earth.

Stereoscopic Image of Pluto
NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

“Of course the New Horizons guys were already doing serious science on this image as it arrived,” May wrote. “But I was able to assemble the two images to make the most satisfying stereo view I can ever remember making.”

Even rock stars can get giddy when they get to meet their heroes backstage.

h/t DNA India

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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