Freddie Mercury's 70th Birthday: Queen Frontman Has Asteroid Named After Him

Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury performing on stage at a concert at the National Bowl, Milton Keynes, England, June 5, 1982. A new biopic about his life has cast Rami Malek in the lead role. Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty

Freddie Mercury famously sang he was a "shooting star leaping through the sky"—and now he really is one.

On what would have been the flamboyant Queen frontman's 70th birthday Monday, an asteroid has been named in his honor.

Queen guitarist Brian May announced the supersonic tribute to Mercury—who died due to complications stemming from AIDS in 1991—in a video announcement Sunday evening.

Asteroid 17473 was discovered the same year as Mercury's death and has been designated "Asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury" by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center. It is located between Mars and Jupiter.

May credits his friend Joel Parker of research and development organization the Southwest Research Institute for facilitating the special commemoration.

"When an asteroid is initially discovered it is given a 'provisional designation' until enough measurements have been made that its orbit is accurately determined. At that point, it is given a number and is eligible to get a name as well," explained Parker.

"In this case, the asteroid in question was discovered in 1991 and was given the provisional designation '1991 FM3.' It has been observed and its position and orbit measured over 1,100 times, and it was given the number 17473.

"When a proposal to name an asteroid after Freddie Mercury was received by the Minor Planet Center, the IAU group selected this asteroid partly due to the 'FM' in the designation.

"The name approved by the IAU is the formal and official name forever to be associated with this asteroid; so, any scientific papers in the future that study this asteroid will refer to it as '17473 Freddiemercury.'"

May added: "Where is Freddie's asteroid? It's in the main asteroid belt, out between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and is about 3.5 kilometers across. It has an albedo of about 0.3—which means it only reflects about 30 per cent of the light that falls on it; like many asteroids, it's a dark object, rather like a cinder in space.

"Viewed from Earth, it is more than 10,000 times fainter than you can see by eye, so you need a fair-sized telescope to see it… and that's why it wasn't discovered until 1991."

Last week, English Heritage unveiled a blue plaque on Mercury's childhood home in London, near Heathrow Airport. The scheme recognizes the homes of prominent people who have lived in England.