Queen's Brian May Joins ESA's Comet Interceptor Group, and That's Dr. Brian May

Besides playing a mean guitar, Dr. Brian May is also an esteemed astrophysicist who is joining a group trying to create a 3D image of an asteroid or comet.
Marcia Wendorf
Brian May, 2017Raph_PH/Flickr

We all know that the lead guitarist of the rock band Queen, Brian May, definitely rocks out. What you may not know is that he also "rockets out", as in, it's Brian May, Ph.D., and that Ph.D. is in astrophysics.

On November 27, 2019, it was announced that May is joining the European Space Agency's Comet Interceptor Group.

The comet interceptor will be comprised of three spacecraft that will greet a comet or other interstellar object that is just entering the inner Solar System. The three spacecraft will then simultaneously observe the object from multiple points, thus creating a 3D model of the object.

A role fit for a Queen

In 1968, May received a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics with honors from Imperial College London. Between 1970 and 1974, May studied at Imperial for his Ph.D., but his interests also extended to music.

In 1970, May formed the rock band Queen along with singer Freddie Mercury and drummer Roger Taylor. When bass player John Deacon joined the group a year later, they shot up into the stratosphere of success with the single "Bohemian Rhapsody".

For the band's three-part harmonies, May was the lower-range vocalist, and May composed many of the band's hits including, "We Will Rock You", "Tie Your Mother Down", "I Want It All", "Who Wants to Live Forever," "The Show Must Go On" and "Only the Good Die Young."

Queen's iconic performance at Live Aid in 1985 is depicted in the 2018 movie "Bohemian Rhapsody", starring Rami Malek as the doomed Freddie Mercury.

Various polls, including a 2005 Planet Rock poll, a Rolling Stone Magazine list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time," and a 2012 poll by Guitar World Magazine have all placed May as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

In 2001, May and Queen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2018, Queen received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Brian May at the Paranal Observatory
Brian May at the Paranal Observatory, Source: ESO/G. Huedepohl/Wikimedia Commons

In 2005, May was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), and in 2007, May received his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Imperial College London. His dissertation, entitled A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, concerned the radial velocity of dust in our solar system.


May is a co-founder of Asteroid Day, along with the late Stephen Hawking, filmmaker Grigorij Richters, B612 Foundation COO Danica Remy, and Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart.

Held annually on the anniversary of the Tunguska Event in Siberia, which occurred on June 30, 1908, it was recent history's most harmful asteroid-related event. Asteroid Day aims to raise awareness about asteroids, and what can be done to protect Earth from them.

Asteroid 52665 Brianmay was named after Brian May.


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