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A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud

By: Brian Harold May

213 pages, Illustrations, figs, graphs


Hardback | Aug 2008 | #177229 | ISBN-13: 9780387777054
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NHBS Price: £64.99 $85/€74 approx

About this book

The Zodiacal Light, that misty diffuse cone of light seen in the West after Sunset and the East before Sunrise, is a beautiful and intriguing phenomenon. Even though everyone can enjoy the sight from a suitably dark location, it is poorly understood, and has been the subject of relatively little research. Brian May began his research into the subject in 1970, and was finally awarded his PhD in 2007, after a hiatus of more than 30 years pursuing his other career as guitarist with his rock band Queen. This book is Briana (TM)s thesis, and as such presents the results of his research for astronomers.

This thesis documents the building of a pressure-scanned Fabry-Perot Spectrometer, equipped with a photomultiplier and pulse-counting electronics, and its deployment at the Observatorio del Teide at IzaAa in Tenerife, at an altitude of 7,700 feet (2,567 m), to record high-resolution spectra of the Zodiacal Light. The aim was to achieve the first systematic mapping of the Magnesium I (MgI) absorption line in the night sky. More than 250 scans of both morning and evening Zodiacal Light were obtained, in two observing periods in 1971 and 1972. The scans showed profiles modified by various Doppler-shifted components with respect to the unshifted shape seen in daylight. The set of spectra obtained is compared with predictions made from a number of different models of a dust cloud, assuming various distributions of dust density as a function of position and particle size, and differing assumptions about their speed and direction. The observations fit predominantly prograde models fairly well, but show a morning-evening asymmetry, different in the two observing periods. Models are investigatedcontaining various components, including prograde and retrograde orbiting dust around the Sun, a drift of interstellar material though the Solar System, and light from distant emitting matter. The implications for possible asymmetries of the Zodiacal Cloud are discussed. Other researches on the Zodiacal Dust Cloud are reviewed, including recent insights into its structure, orientation, and evolution. Briana (TM)s observations are evaluated in this context.

From the reviews: "The Queen guitarist Brian May has achieved a new milestone: he has published his PhD thesis in astronomy. ! Entitled A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, his thesis analyses what happens to the dust particles left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. ! Mike Lockwood, a physics professor at Southampton University, said May's work was timely ! . Brian Cox, a physics professor at Manchester University, applauded May's tenacity. ! That's hugely impressive." (Jonathan Leake and Robert Watts, Times Online, August, 2008)


Dedication.- Preface and Acknowledgements.- List of Figures.- Abbreviations and Acronyms.- Introduction.- The Zodiacal Light, The Phenomenon.- Preparations and experimental details 1971-1974.- Reduction of the Data.- Interpretation of results in terms of physical models.- Current developments and future plans.- Appendix 1 program ZLPLT.- Appendix 2 programs LSQFIT, GAUSSN.- Appendix 3 programs POLYPT, FLEXPT, MINIPT, MINIPS, GAUSPT.- Appendix 4 programs STREAM, CONVL.- Appendix 5 Hicks, May & Reay NATURE paper, 1972.- Appendix 6 Hicks, May & Reay MNRAS paper, 1974.- References.

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Brian May CBE, PhD, ARCS, FRAS Is a founding member of Queen, a world-renowned guitarist, songwriter, producer and performer. Brian was forced to abandon his PhD studies at Imperial College London in 1974 when Queen's popularity first exploded. He always retained a keen interest in astronomy and has been a regular contributor to The Sky at Night, BBC TV's monthly astronomy programme hosted by Sir Patrick Moore. Returning to astrophysical research in 2006, he was awarded his PhD in 2007. He is Chancellor of John Moores University, and a patron to a number of charities, including the Mercury Phoenix Trust and the British Bone Marrow Donor Association. To contact Brian and enjoy updates on astronomy and his thoughts on various subjects from relativity to rock, visit his interactive website at

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