The founder of the legendary rock band Queen has completed his doctoral thesis in astrophysics after taking a 30-year break to play some guitar.
Brian May's thesis examines the mysterious phenomenon known as Zodiacal light, a misty diffuse cone of light that appears in the western sky after sunset and in the eastern sky before sunrise. Casual observers, if they live under very dark rural skies, can best see the light two to three hours before sunrise as they look east, and many people have been fooled into seeing it as the first sign of morning twilight. A Persian astronomer who lived around the 12th century referred to it as "false dawn" in a poem.
Astronomers now know that Zodiacal light represents reflected sunlight shining on scattered space debris clustered most densely near the sun. The millions of particles range in size from tiny asteroids to microscopic dust grains, and extend outward beyond the orbit of Mars.
May's work focuses on an instrument that recorded 250 scans of morning and evening Zodiacal light between 1971 and 1972. The Fabry-Perot Spectrometer is located at the Observatorio del Teide at Izana in Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands.
The completed thesis appears as the book "A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud" (Springer and Canopus Publishing Ltd., 2008).
"I have thoroughly enjoyed my years playing guitar and recording music with Queen, but it's extremely gratifying to see the publication of my thesis," May said. "I've been fascinated with astronomy for years, and I was happy to finally complete my Ph.D. last year and record my studies of the Zodiacal Light in this book."
May officially received his doctorate on Aug. 24, 2007, from the Imperial College in London. He also gained the appointment of chancellor for Liverpool John Moores University in November of that year, showing that he's not just any guitar hero.
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