Queen’s Brian May Wrote A Song For Ultima Thule And NASA’s New Horizons Probe, So It’s Quite Literally Far Out (Update: The New Horizons Team Is Getting Dragged Because Of The Nickname They Chose)
Brian May has something in common with me: we share a longtime burning curiosity about those twinkly lights up there in the night sky. Since I did not sell tens of millions of albums as part of Queen, my net worth is somewhere south of May’s $US175 million; his success, on the other hand, has allowed him to pursue his fascination to the point where he’s now — as far as I can tell after some cursory research — the only rock star who’s also an astrophysicist.
As NASA‘s New Horizons probe came within spitting distance of Ultima Thule, which is the most distant object ever encountered by humans, May released a song dedicated to both the object and the spacecraft, and was on hand at New Horizons headquarters at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. “This mission is about human curiosity — the need for mankind to go out there and explore what makes the universe tick,” May said. “I hope you will enjoy it. I hope it’s worthy of this amazing cause.”
At 933PM Pacific time on New Year’s Eve, New Horizons came within 3500 kilometers of Ultima Thule’s surface, after journeying 4 billion miles — a billion miles past Pluto. As its data makes the six hour trip back to Earth, we’ll begin to see increasingly detailed images of the object over the next several days. The Kuiper Belt, which is the region inhabited by Ultima Thule, is of particular interest to astroboffins, because temperatures there hover around absolute zero. -460 degrees is the point at which, according to the physics about which we know on this planet, we get as close to zero entropy as possible, and this suggests that anything in that area could have been preserved in its primoridial state for 4 billion years or so. So, the belt could be harboring secrets about the formation of the universe — and that makes it a scientific wonderland.
— Alan Stern (@AlanStern) December 31, 2018
May will be hanging out with New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern as the data analysis gets underway. “I’m not a tourist. I’m not a celebrity. I’m here to work and discover,” he says. And there should be plenty of discovering going on: as New Horizons deputy project scientist John Spencer says, “Anything is possible out there in this very unknown region.” May adds: “The fact that we don’t know anything about this makes it the most desirable object possible.”
Perhaps Star Trek: The Motion Picture will turn out to be prophetic in a few million years.
Update: The scientists on the New Horizons team are catching shade because “Ultima Thule” apparently has some Nazi origins.