- MU69, also called Ultima Thule, is more than 4 billion miles away from Earth, making it the farthest object ever explored.
- Queen guitarist Brian May released a new song, “New Horizons,” to celebrate the historic flyby.
- This is May’s first solo release in more than two decades. The guitarist has a PhD in astrophysics and also worked with NASA’s New Horizons science team.
On New Year’s Day, Queen guitarist Brian May released his first solo single in more than two decades.
And it celebrates an achievement of NASA’s that was also many years in the making.
The song, “New Horizons,” is about NASA’s successful flyby of a mysterious, mountain-sized object that’s farther from Earth than anything else humanity has visited. The space rock is formally called 2014 MU69, though it’s more commonly known as “Ultima Thule” (a controversial nickname – see editor’s note below).
MU69 is more than 4 billion miles away from our planet and 1 billion miles beyond Pluto.
NASA’s New Horizons probe, which launched toward Pluto in 2006, successfully flew past MU69 on New Year’s Day. When New Horizons set off, nobody knew MU69 even existed. The object was only detected when astronauts upgraded a camera in the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. After New Horizons completed its mission at Pluto, which it first reached in July 2015, scientists decided to send the probe to this new target.
May, who has a PhD in astrophysics, worked with the New Horizons mission’s science team and was asked to write a song for the flyby. May said he was initially reluctant about the task.
“I thought this is going to be hard, because I can’t think of anything that rhymes with Ultima Thule,” he said, according to The New York Times.
The song he came up with begins with words from the late physicist Stephen Hawking, who recorded a video message when the NASA probe flew by Pluto. In the quote, Hawking said: “The revelations of New Horizons may help us to understand better how our solar system was formed.”
In addition to releasing “New Horizons,” May recently worked as a creative and musical consultant on the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He attended the Golden Globes on Sunday, where “Bohemian Rhapsody” was named the best drama film. Rami Malek, who portrayed Queen frontman Freddie Mercuty, also won a Golden Globe for best film drama actor.
Here’s the full “New Horizons” song:
At a news conference, the guitarist said the song is about the human spirit of adventure and discovery.
“Gradually it dawned on me that this mission is about human curiosity,” May said, according to Florida Today. “It’s about the need of mankind to go out there an explore and discover what makes the universe tick and this has been going on since the dawn of time.”
That’s clear in these lyrics:
“New horizons to explore New horizons no one’s ever seen before Limitless wonders in a never ending sky We may never, never reach them, that’s why we have to try.”
The New Horizons probe’s first low-resolution pictures of MU69 have revealed that the ancient object formed from two separate ones. It has reddish coloring, which scientists compared to the color of Charon, Pluto’s moon.
NASA expects to receive the highest-resolution color photos of MU69 in February, though it may take two years for all of the photos and data to reach Earth.
Data acquired by New Horizons could provide new explanations about the evolution of the solar systems and how planets like Earth formed.
“Ultima is the first thing we’ve been to that is not big enough to have a geological engine like a planet, and also something that’s never been warmed greatly by the sun,” Alan Stern, who is leading the New Horizons mission, previously told Business Insider. “It’s like a time capsule from 4.5 billion years ago. That’s what makes it so special.”
Dave Mosher contributed reporting to this story.
Editor’s note: After a public campaign, the New Horizons team selected Ultima Thule as a nickname for (486958) 2014 MU69. However, we’ve de-emphasized it here because the Nazi party used the word “Thule” as a tenet of its ideology.
- Read more about NASA’s New Horizons probe:
- NASA just pulled off humanity’s farthest-ever visit to a space object – the New Horizons probe successfully flew by a mountain-size rock 1 billion miles beyond Pluto
- NASA just released the first close-up photos of the farthest object humanity has ever explored – and it looks like a giant red snowman
- Is it Planet 9 or Planet X? Scientists spar over what to call the solar system’s hypothetical missing world