Queen guitarist Brian May earned his Ph.D in astrophysics in 2007, and he serves as a member of the team behind NASA's New Horizons space probe

By Jordan Runtagh
January 04, 2019 04:55 PM
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Brian May is known to most as a bonafide rock star, but these days he spends much of his time studying actual stars.

The Queen guitarist earned his Ph.D in astrophysics in 2007, and — when he’s not packing stadiums with his Adam Lambert-fronted band — he serves as a member of the team behind NASA’s New Horizons space probe.

Since its launch 12 year ago, the craft has reached the Kuiper Belt in the outer reaches of the solar system, and on Tuesday it captured an image of a trans-Neptunian space rock called MU69 (a.k.a. Ultima Thule). The object is the most distant ever visited by a human-made craft, and the oldest known remnant from our early solar system.

“A virgin primordial bilobial Kuiper Belt Object – imaged for the very first time,” an excited May wrote on Instagram Wednesday. “A perfectly preserved original building block of the Sun’s family of planets. We are all in awe !”

Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty

He posted a number of other updates on the discovery a short time later, including an image of the object in color — which he described as “reddish” and “also very dark – something like the soil in our gardens.”

May, a stereoscopic photography enthusiast who published a collection of his 3D Queen images in 2017, also shared a stereoscopic photo of Ultima Thule that he processed himself.

“The very first stereo view of the most remote object ever seen by the human race begins to reveal its topography, as a flat picture never could,” he captioned the image. “Ultima Thule is by far the oldest known and most unspoilt relic of the early solar system – that same solar system that was born so that you and I could be born !”

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In celebration of this historic feat of exploration, May, 71, released a four-minute song on New Year’s Eve titled “New Horizons (Ultima Thule Mix).”

“New horizons to explore, new horizons no one’s ever seen before,” he sings over an electro beat. “The fruits of wishful thinking, we taste them for real. We’re off to new horizons, so hold onto the wheel.” The accompanying music video kicks off with a rocket launch before a computer-animated simulation of the New Horizons craft’s journey.

“This project made music in my head, and that’s what you’re hearing,” May said of the song, according to Space.com.