The whimsical collection of physics songs in the July issue was fun, but it didn’t mention astronomy-related music such as Gustav Holst’s instrumental “Mars, the Bringer of War.” What is more interesting, it didn’t mention attempts by modern professional musicians to incorporate scientific themes.
As a fan of rock and heavy metal, not a genre normally associated with physicists and astronomers, I’ll throw out a few examples. “High Speed Dirt” by Megadeth imagines what it might be like to be a meteor flashing across the sky and crashing into the Earth—although the singer may also be crashing from something else. Rush was a popular band for many of us undergraduates in the 1980s, as they explored philosophical and scientific themes to go with their technically fantastic music. “Countdown” relays the emotions felt by the band members as they watched a space shuttle launch, with clips of dialog from mission control and the astronauts aboard.
But the best astronomy-related song of all might be Rush’s “Cygnus X-1,” released soon after the announcement of the object’s discovery in the 1970s. A former quasar astronomer, I still use the piece on my exams for stellar astronomy classes because it correctly depicts a black hole. For those who are into old album rock, this is a song worth listening to.