Congratulations to Brian May, the founder of the ’70s band Queen, who just completed his PhD thesis in astrophysics at a British university.
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.
Uh … I know about the Big Dipper. And that is all I know about. Seriously I’ll look up at the sky and identify every single cluster of stars as “The Big Dipper.” But I say it with such conviction that sometimes people think I know what I’m talking about.
Brian’s thesis has been published as a book called A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, and if you’ve been struggling with insomnia, you can buy it here. It costs $80!!! Jesus, for that kind of money, you could go out and buy some of Lindsay Lohan’s leggings!