Rock Stars And Astronauts Gravitate To Starmus Tenerife

It started with short booming taps on the microphone as a hint that Professor Brian May was about to take the stage to deliver his lecture. Garik Israelian, the driving force behind the Stramus Festival is not just a professor but also a self confessed rock fan so he increased the tempo and it was quickly recognized and picked up as the opening beat of “We Will Rock You? That crossover between science, music, and art is what inspired 7,000 people to sign up for this years event, quite a quantum leap from the 60 at the inaugural Starmus back in 2011.

It was clear from the opening registration day at Abama Golf & Spa Resort (above) that the organizers had created a monster, but I could see it was one they were nurturing and directing well. This year saw a big increase in former cosmonauts on the VIP list as well as Nobel winning scientists from astronomy and related fields. Delegates and enthusiasts were drawn to Tenerife from all over the globe, a young lady checking in ahead of me had come from Bulgaria.

Before the serious science kicked in, I took the opportunity for a nose around the luxury resort, it certainly is flash, boarding the resort train I had a full tour down to the beach past the mirador and the views across to Playa San Juan. Locals still use the beach (they cannot be sealed off as private) but they have a long trek on foot and cannot use the sun beds and train. I bet later all the brightest minds in science would also be tempted to ride the train like a kid in a theme park.

In the main hall Garik Israelian (above) welcomed all and there was a media scrum to get photos of the big names, with Brian May the big prize closely followed by Professor Stephen Hawking, a real coup for the festival. It was an unusual mix of people as many tour t-shirts showed long standing allegiances to Queen and their famous guitarist. Brian May was well on his way to a PHD in Astrophysics before rock fame distracted him, years later he completed his thesis thanks to lengthy research at Tenerife and La Palma observatories.

The second day saw the action switch to the Magma Artes & Congresos centre just below Siam Park, but for once the big crowds were heading into the architectural icon. Brian Mays speech was “A Brief History Of Stereoscopy In Astronomy” and was delivered via the latest 3D giant screen with state of the art glasses for all us in the crowd. The glasses had plenty to focus on, not just Brian’s latest large multi coloured shirt, but also over an hour of amazing stereo produced photos of comets, asteroids, planets and volcanoes. The professor’s commentary explained the development of 3D imagery and its practical uses in measuring space sized distances and creating eye popping photos of new horizons. The Rosetta probe is currently orbiting a far flung asteroid and we were shown the newly downloaded images provided by stereo viewing techniques.

Our host didn’t quite have the same nimble command of the hi tech projector as he does of a guitar but his delivery was down to earth and easy to follow for those like me with just a loose grasp of science. It went down well with the experts like Richard Dawkins and Robert Wilson (above) sat just in front of me and the finish was greeted with a tidal wave of applause. There’s plenty more ground to cover as the delegates take in a star party up on Mount Teide and visit the observatories in Tenerife and La Palma. Then there is also the big Sonic Universe concert when former Yes keyboard player Rick Wakeman joins Brian for a musical blast. It’s all astronauts and rock stars in Tenerife these days.