Queen Guitarist Brian May Scores Ultima Thule Flyby Time-Lapse Video

An ethereal track by Queen lead guitarist Brian May accompanies the awe-inspiring time-lapse view from NASA's New Horizons flyby of a distant solar system object.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern presented the video today (March 15) to cap off a press conference and series of presentations about the object 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas.

The time-lapse, created by New Horizons deputy project scientist John Spencer, a researcher at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, shows the object appearing against the star fields of Sagittarius and growing in size until New Horizons' flyby on New Years' Eve 2018 – New Years' Day 2019, then showing its silhouette as the probe flew beyond.

May has a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and joined the New Horizons team — "scientifically, not musically," Stern said — in 2015, serving as one of the team's stereo image experts.

"This summer, I challenged him to write something around the flyby and the exploration we're doing, and he flatly turned me down and said, 'No, I can't write lyrics because nothing rhymes with Ultima Thule,'" Stern said. "But then he thought better of it, and eventually created this anthem he calls 'New Horizons.' 

"Last week, he mixed excerpts of that anthem and the video that John Spencer and his team put together, and it's being released simultaneously today by NASA and by Queen — their PR machine," Stern added. "We're quite proud of it; we think it's another first for New Horizons."

This is the long-awaited Grand Ultima Thule Flyby movie !!! Full details on Bri’s Soapbox at BrianMay.com —- https://bitly.com. Enjoy ! And you can hear it in STEREO there ! Much more tasty !!! 💥💥💥 So here it is ! Perhaps the shortest full-length movie in the world !! It’s also packed with real science and astro technological achievement. To produce this movie, it took 13 years of space travel, about 700 million dollars, and the expertise of hundreds of NASA engineers, navigators, astrophysicists and rocket scientists. The core team of the mission, called New Horizons, is under the direction of a genius called Alan Stern, who has driven the whole project since around 2010, when he began convincing the whole World that Mankind needed to find out what Pluto was like in close-up. The New Horizons Mission succeeded in the incredibly difficult task of directing a probe roughly the size and shape of a grand piano 3 billion miles to an accuracy of a couple of hundred, achieving the first flyby in history of what we all knew in our childhood as the ninth planet - PLUTO. I was lucky enough to be adopted as a guest at that time, and made some great friends in the team. A couple of years and another billion miles later, The NH probe was set to perform a flyby of an object even more remote - a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). Alan Stern asked me along again for the occasion, and invited me to make music for the mission. The rest is history I guess. My New Horizons track premiered in NASA TV on New Years Day 2019, is about to be released on vinyl for Record Store day, and can be found on our YouTube channels. And today I’m proud to reveal this very short movie which depicts completely faithfully the whole approach sequence - plus the glimpse the probe captured looking back towards the Sun at the ‘crescent’ view of the KBO after the encounter. OK ! The star of our film is a KBO called 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule. Shall we start courting the Oscar nominations now ?! 😊. Bri Brian Harold May

A photo posted by @brianmayforreal on Mar 18, 2019 at 11:12am PDT

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Sarah Lewin
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Sarah Lewin started writing for Space.com in June of 2015 as a Staff Writer and became Associate Editor in 2019 . Her work has been featured by Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Quanta Magazine, Wired, The Scientist, Science Friday and WGBH's Inside NOVA. Sarah has an MA from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and an AB in mathematics from Brown University. When not writing, reading or thinking about space, Sarah enjoys musical theatre and mathematical papercraft. She is currently Assistant News Editor at Scientific American. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahExplains.