Ryugu in glorious stereo for the first time ever ! For more details visit JAXA - or Bri's soapbox ! Or my IG - brianmayforreal - Bri pic.twitter.com/8vKL9CJF0O— Dr. Brian May (@DrBrianMay) June 27, 2018
Once a rock star has already conquered Earth, what's left but to bring his artistic interests to space?
Astrophysicist Brian May, who found fame as a guitarist and songwriter for the British rock band Queen, has done just that, putting his own unique touch on some of the most detailed images ever of an asteroid called Ryugu. He paired two photographs to create a stereo image, which creates the illusion of 3D.
"It's exactly what the doctor ordered because here we have a beautiful stereo image of Ryugu, the very first in history," May said in a video released by the Japanese space agency, which is running the mission. "Your jaws will drop."
May paused his doctorate in astronomy for a music career, and then went back to finish his degree three decades later. Scientifically, he's interested in how to protect Earth from the occasional errant asteroid, so he reached out to the team behind the mission to Ryugu to offer them his expertise in another long-standing interest: stereo imaging.
The images he used as a starting point were taken about 13 minutes apart by the Hayabusa2 mission, a Japanese spacecraft that just arrived at the asteroid and will eventually bring samples back to Earth. Before the spacecraft's final approach began in June, scientists had only the fuzziest images of the asteroid — even early in Hayabusa2's sequence of approach photographs, the asteroid is just a dozen pixels across.
That's in stark contrast to the vivid 3D view produced by May based on photographs taken late in June. Pairing the images stereoscopically makes the flat image of the asteroid pop into 3D.
"This was easy to do," May explains in the video. "The illumination is great; the angle is perfect."
The most straightforward way to see Ryugu in all its stereoscopic glory is to use a specially made viewer, which ensures that each eye sees only its half of the image pair. But some enthusiasts have lower-tech workarounds, such as crossing your eyes or cutting eye holes in a piece of cardboard, if you can't wait to track down the gear.
Hayabusa2's scientists aren't just focused on the asteroid's surface with its bumps and dips. The spacecraft also needs to create a detailed map of Ryugu's gravity in order to help it safely deposit its landers on the asteroid.
But chances are, that map won't be quite as cool to look at as May's stereo creation.