Brian May, Scientist and Guitar Legend, Helps NASA Return Asteroid Sample to Earth
Acclaimed guitarist and founding member of Queen, Brian May, has a passion for outer space that goes beyond mere curiosity. With a doctorate in astrophysics, May recently played a crucial role in assisting NASA with its first ever asteroid sample return mission. The sample, consisting of rocks and dust, was obtained from the asteroid Bennu and safely returned to Earth’s orbit on Sunday.
May’s expertise in astrophysics was instrumental in the mission’s success. He created stereoscopic images that aided the mission’s leader and team in finding a safe landing spot on Bennu, which has the potential to collide with Earth in the future. In a statement on his website, May expressed his excitement about the potential discoveries the sample could unlock:
“This box when it is opened of material from the surface of Bennu can tell us untold secret of the origins of the universe, the origins or our planet and the origins of life itself. What an incredibly exciting day.”
The sample return marks the culmination of a nearly two-decade mission that began in 2016 with the launch of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The sample was collected in 2020, making Bennu the smallest object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft. The journey back to Earth commenced in May 2021.
Besides his contributions to the mission, May, who was recently knighted, co-wrote a book titled “Bennu 3-D: Anatomy of an Asteroid” with team leader Dante Lauretta. Unfortunately, May was unable to be present when NASA received the sample due to his commitments with Queen’s upcoming U.S. tour.
The asteroid Bennu is of scientific interest because it provides scientists with a glimpse into the early solar system. It offers insights into the formation of the planets and the potential origins of life on Earth. Bennu, which is more than 4.5 billion years old, likely broke off from a larger carbon-rich asteroid between 700 million and 2 billion years ago. By studying Bennu, researchers hope to better understand planet formation and potentially hazardous asteroids.
The sample, weighing approximately 8.8 ounces, was dropped off in Utah and later taken to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Scientists will extract and analyze the sample before distributing it to researchers worldwide.
May’s contribution to NASA’s asteroid sample return mission highlights his dual roles as a rock icon and a respected scientist in the field of astrophysics.
- Astrophysics: The branch of astronomy that deals with the physics of space and celestial objects.
- Asteroid: A small rocky object that orbits the Sun, typically found in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
- Source article: Eric Lagatta, USA TODAY