The Beatles are one of the greatest cultural phenomena to come from the 20th century, yet many people are unaware of their impact on science.
In ‘Here, There and Everywhere,’ inspired by the book ‘La Scienza dei Beatles’ (‘The Science of the Beatles’), Viviana Ambrosi shows how the Fab Four can bring the study of celestial objects and the exploration of the universe closer to a large public audience. This was set out in a presentation on April 3rd at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in Liverpool.
The Beatles formed at the start of the space race, and have always inspired scientists, whether they knew it or not.
The Beatles’ record company (EMI) used money from the sale of the White Album to fund scientific research. Some of which went towards Godfrey Hounsfield’s research into X-rays, which led to the invention of the CT scanner, for which he shared a Nobel Prize.
‘Across the Universe’ was transmitted into deep space in 2008, and numerous Beatles songs have been played as the wakeup call for astronauts on the International Space Station—including a live musical wakeup by Paul McCartney in 2005.
There are five asteroids named after this musical group: Beatles, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr. There is also a crater on Mercury named ‘Lennon,’ and when a diamond star (a white dwarf covered in crystallised carbon) was discovered in 2004, it was nicknamed ‘Lucy’ after ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’
This was also the inspiration for ‘Lucy,’ the fossil that rewrote the story of humanity, and this in turn has inspired NASA to name their first mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids ‘Lucy.’
The Lucy mission will launch in 2021 and will arrive at the L4 Trojan cloud (a group of asteroids that orbit the Sun in Jupiter’s orbit, about 60° ahead of Jupiter) in 2027, where the spacecraft will fly by four Trojan asteroids—3548 Eurybates, 15094 Polymele, 11351 Leucus, and 21900 Orus.
After these flybys, Lucy will return to the vicinity of the Earth, whereupon it will receive a gravity assist to take it to the L5 Trojan cloud (which trails about 60° behind Jupiter), where it will visit the binary Trojan 617 Patroclus with its satellite Menoetius. Lucy will also fly by the inner main-belt asteroid 52246 Donaldjohanson, which was named for the discoverer of the Lucy hominin fossil.
Three instruments comprise Lucy’s payload: a high-resolution visible imager, an optical and near-infrared imaging spectrometer, and a thermal infrared spectrometer.
This mission is due to launch in 2021 and will take 12 years to complete its journey. It is safe to say that the Beatles will continue to be an inspiration for many years to come.