The world’s most celebrated astronomy Ph.D.

Posted by David Eicher
on Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Over the Memorial Day break, I had occasion to throw in a DVD or two, and wanting to relive a little music, I watched large swaths of Live Aid, the iconic 1985 concert that featured numerous acts on stages at Wembley Stadium in London, England, and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Again, I was reminded that Queen, the legendary British rockers, stole the show that day. Set against a galaxy of other stars, the foursome of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon blew away quite a few other heavyweights. I had seen them myself as a teenager on their "Jazz" tour in Cincinnati, Ohio, in late November 1978, in the second year of my production of the magazine Deep Sky Monthly.

And those memories in turn reminded me of someone who is perhaps the world's most famous Ph.D. astronomer — guitarist and singer Brian May. You undoubtedly know May for his astounding guitar skills featured in numerous Queen songs and for his legendary songwriting, which includes such hits as "Tie Your Mother Down," "Hammer to Fall," "We Will Rock You," "Now I'm Here," "Fat Bottomed Girls," and "I Want It All." May has continued his musical pursuits with The Brian May Band and many assorted solo projects, as well as being the chief protector of the Queen heritage, along with Taylor.

What you may not know about May is that he studied physics at Imperial College London before Queen took off, and was on his way to earning a Ph.D. when the band became an overwhelming success. He made numerous observations at Tenerife and worked on papers involving the zodiacal dust in the plane of the solar system. Understandably, the worldwide success of Queen forced May to set aside the astronomy for a time.

However, encouraged by friend and astronomy popularizer Patrick Moore, May returned to academia to finish his degree. In 2008, he received his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Imperial College London, for "A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud." In 2006, May co-authored the book, Bang! The Complete History of the Universe, along with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott.

What an interesting combination it is to have the world's most famous Ph.D. astronomer in Brian May, one of the driving forces in rock 'n' roll and an energetic activist protecting animals from mistreatment. Are tracks from Queen not the ultimate star party music, I ask?

For more, see Brian's website at, and the Queen official website at

Photo credit: David J. Cable/Arcadia Photographic UK

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