Dr. May Answers Your Questions

4 06 2009


I love it when things I like mix together.  Like science and music.  Or even better:  music and science!

I’ve mentioned many times how impressed I am that Brian May [ahem!  Dr. Brian May!] of Queen went back to college and finished up his astrophysics degree last year.  I was thrilled to see him on American Idol a couple of weeks ago.  I mean, I’m not exactly the A-I type, but his appearance made me feel like perhaps I wasn’t being too lame watching the show.  If only they had tried to pull off Under Pressure…  Right, NickLauren?

So this prompted me to look up his thoughts on the appearance, and turns out he maintains a website (don’t we all?) where he keeps a blog of sorts.  He uses this forum to talk about music, art, photography, current events, sci-fi, and yes… SCIENCE!  He also takes time to answer questions people send him.  Which brings me to this really cool post he put up a few days ago in which he answers this question from a science teacher about interstellar dust:

First, let me give you some background for the question. I have a swimming pool in my backyard and we keep it covered throughout the fall/winter/spring. The cover accumulates quite a bit of dust and here is the interesting part… if I place a strong magnet in a small plastic sandwich bag and drag it across the pool cover, the magnet will attract and collect many small particles. The particles are easily removed from the exterior of the plastic bag when the magnet is removed.

When I show these fragments to my students, I can make a solid case for the particles being micrometeorites based on the following evidence: 1) They are attracted to a magnet (probably iron), 2) I do not live near a main road, so the most likely source of the dust and debris on the pool cover is the sky, 3) Under a microscope (40x), one can easily see pits and scars that are evidence of strong heating/melting, and 4) The particles are generally small and spherical.

Now for my question: What is the probability that silicates and other non-magnetic space dust might also exist on my swimming pool cover… or on any relatively large surface area such as a roof?

[snip further questions]

Dr. Bri has this to say:

This is a great set of questions, Stan. I love it.

I have joked many times about the dust in my house being our prime (unused) research material right in front of us.

I agree. It’s such a simple thought, but all the great ones are. Without any doubt there is some component of Interplanetary dust in the dust we seep up every day in our gardens. And some percentage of that must be of interstellar origin. It’s just a question of what these percentages are … which, as you say, can only be resolved by identifying each kind of grain.

I think there has been some research done in this area by people working on samples from polar ice … I must look that up.

But as for the regular every-day dust in our lives … I don’t think anybody has tackled it seriously.

Is anybody else loving this as much as I am?  Wow.  A rock legend who not only speaks the language but actually contributes in a positive manner to the education of the masses.  Not only on the internets, but all over the place.  He’s written a book, BANG! The Complete History of the Universe, and created a planetarium show currently running in Germany.

And just because this is awesome…

Brian May header

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4 responses

4 06 2009
ladyh

Would it not be totally awesome if there were more like Brian May that could truly be role models and inspire the mostly lackadaisical seat warmers that fill the classrooms on a daily basis? Honestly, it is so refreshing to me that there are some successful performers (rock icons?) that actually went on and did something ELSE with their lives that shows how valuable education is. Queen is iconic in their own right, but my respect for the band is higher now. BTW? You did right by putting music and then science :P

4 06 2009
epiblitikos

Yea, I’ll admit that I watched Queen too. But only because Mom was watching it. Nick and I were playing video games and he almost broke his neck running up the stairs to see Queen!:) The show was good, but neither of them compared to Freddie! This post only makes me love them even more. What an amazing group of people they are.

P.S. Did you know Queen asked Adam to be their new lead singer? And he said that he wanted to work on his solo career, and then he asked if he could do both. Needless to say, I was very upset. I mean if Queen asks you to be their new lead singer, you ask when you can start!

4 06 2009
147horsepower

If Queen asks you to be their lead singer you drop, weeping, to your knees and say yes in 6 different octaves like their old singer could! I’ve always maintained that Brian May was one of the coolest people ever. I’m glad to see I was right. I mean, a brilliant scientist AND an incredibly talented musician!?! I know a few people like that and they’re pretty cool themselves. (you know who you are) They can’t do “Under Pressure” without Bowie (or Freddie for that matter, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon). As far as I’m concerned no one will ever top Hg.

4 06 2009
epiblitikos

Yes, Yes I would do that if Queen asked me to be their new lead singer. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, yet…

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