Queen rocker Brian May used to beg his parents to stay up late, so he could learn about the stars.
Now six decades later, the guitar legend turned astrophysicist has released an arena rock song composed for both the farthest away object humanity has ever visited — Ultima Thule — and the spacecraft sent to scour this distant world, NASA’s New Horizons probe.
“This mission is about human curiosity — the need for mankind to go out there and explore what makes the universe tick,” May said Monday at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, site of the New Horizons headquarters.
“I hope you will enjoy it,” added May, who released the song two minutes after midnight local time, during the first minutes of the 2019. “I hope it’s worthy of this amazing cause.”
The song (embedded below) features May’s big guitar riffs and chanting vocals.
At 12:33 a.m. ET on New Year’s Day, the New Horizons probe will swoop just 2,200 miles from Ultima Thule’s surface — a world 4 billion miles away, and 1 billion miles past Pluto. Detailed images won’t be available immediately, as it takes around six hours for the data to arrive back on Earth. But unprecedented snapshots of Ultima will be released in increasingly improved detail over the first few days of 2019.
Ultima Thule exists in a profoundly frigid zone of the solar system where temperatures are near absolute zero — which is as cold it gets (minus 460 degrees Fahrenheit). In this realm of frozen worlds, known as the Kuiper Belt, scientists believe objects have been preserved for some 4 billion years in their primordial state, when the universe formed.
Going there can give planetary scientists a view into our solar system’s distant past, and deduce just what transpired ages ago.
“The Kuiper Belt is just a scientific wonderland,” Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, said on Sunday.
May, who has researched dust clouds in the solar system, will be joining Stern and his planetary science team as they receive and analyze data from the New Horizons spacecraft.
“I’m not a tourist. I’m not a celebrity. I’m here to work and discover,” May said.
On Monday, scientists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory repeatedly underscored how little anyone still knows about Ultima Thule.
“Anything is possible out there in this very unknown region,” said New Horizons deputy project scientist John Spencer.
But beginning Jan. 1, 2019, Ultima Thule will be far less mysterious, once the first images arrive.
You, me, and the scientists alike won’t be in the dark for much longer.
“The fact that we don’t know anything about this makes it the most desirable object possible,” said May.