In honor of the late, great Freddie Mercury’s 70th birthday, a flying piece of rock formerly known as Asteroid 17473 has been bestowed the fabulous new title of Asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury. Former Queen guitarist Brian May made the announcement, which was fitting, because he also holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics.
May, who received his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Imperial College in 2006 (after starting his research in 1970 and getting sidetracked for a few decades by being in one of the biggest rock bands ever), revealed the new name via video message at a “Freddie for a Day” party in Switzerland’s Lake Geneva.
The asteroid, some 300 million miles away, lives between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid belt. At only 2.17 miles across, Freddiemercury isn’t an especially large celestial object, but as the singer’s larger-than-life persona so flamboyantly continues to demonstrate 25 years after his death, physicality hardly matters.
Unlike the late star, however, Freddiemercury doesn’t shine bright enough to be seen without the proper tools. Because it would need to be 10,000 times brighter to be observed with the naked eye, anyone attempting to spot it in the night sky would need to use a telescope.
Discovered in 1991 — the year Mercury died from AIDS complications — the asteroid travels in a slightly elliptical orbit around the Sun at a speed of 12.4 miles per second. The closest Freddiemercury ever swings around the Earth is a distant 217 million miles away, so the chances it will ever make contact are incredibly slim.
By having an asteroid named after him, Mercury joins an elite list of literal rock stars that have done the same: All of the Beatles, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and May himself have geologic namesakes whizzing by in space.
Responding to the news, astronomer Joel Parker, director of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, told The Guardian: “Singer Freddie Mercury sang, ‘I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky’ — and now that is even more true than ever before… Even if you can’t see Freddiemercury leaping through the sky, you can be sure he’s there - ‘floating around in ecstasy,’ as he might sing, for millennia to come.”