Space Music: Deadmau5 Explores HR 8938 Cephei

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If you’re into space (which I’m assuming you are) and like trance music (which you may not do, but I’m passionate about it), you might have been happily perplexed last month when you noticed Joel Zimmerman (a.k.a. the famous deadmau5) released a single called “HR 8938 Cephei.” (You can download the track here.)

I’ve been hooked on deadmau5 ever since I heard “Arguru,” and this new track is outstanding — the perfect music to listen to when writing about space and crazy physics.

deadmau5 awesomeness to one side, why “HR 8938 Cephei”? Understandably, this star catalog number would have jumped out to many astronomers, but like many electronic music track names, I was left a little confused. Is HR 8938 Cephei a well-known star? Why has it been chosen as a track name by one of the most popular progressive trance/electro producers on the planet?

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So, I did a bit of research to find… not a lot. Apart from the overwhelming deadmau5 references via a Google search,* I was able to track down one webpage that talked about HR 8938 Cephei.

The Department of Astronomy at the University of Illinois maintains a page referring to HR 8938 Cephei — a page that has most likely seen an inextricable surge in traffic these last few weeks.

As per the university website, HR 8938 is a north polar star (not too far from Polaris in the night sky), located in the constellation of Cepheus, 307 light-years from Earth. It is class A (A7) subgiant star (a class of stars that are slightly brighter than normal main sequence stars like the sun).

Out of interest, HR 8938 has a mass of over two suns and its surface temperature is 8,000 Kelvin. Oh, and it’s around 900 million years old.

So, it’s a bright star. There’s lots of them. Why else might this star be considered special?

As the catalog number belongs to the aptly named “Bright Star Catalogue,” I decided to look it up. According to the catalog, HR 8938 has a few other names, perhaps the clue lies there?

More catalog numbers. HR 8938 is also known as “HD 221525,” “SAO 3916,” “BD +86 344″ and “FK5: 3967.”

“HD 221525″ was the only identity that flagged anything substantial. In 1992, HD 221525 (a star designation used by the “Henry Draper Catalogue” published between 1918 and 1924) was the subject of a paper called “HD 221525 as a primary spectrophotometric standard star in the visible,” from the journal Soviet Astronomy. The reason? Apparently, HD 221525 makes for a great calibration target and a good “standard” to measure other stars against.

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Realizing that the clue to deadmau5′s tune name probably wasn’t going to be found looking through star catalogs and Google searches, I decided to do the sensible thing and email Zimmerman’s agent.

Alas, I have yet to hear back. Perhaps we’ll never find out his inspiration. Perhaps Zimmerman just randomly picked a star and honored it with music. There is no “why,” just “is.”

And why not?

*In a Facebook status update, Zimmerman acknowledges that the release of this new track has swamped the search results:

“So i googled “HR 8938 Cephei” and it took me four pages of results to finally find info on the distant star… sorry astronomers.” — deadmau5, Facebook