We are interrupted at this stage by a knock on the door and Paul Murdin, a professor of astronomy at Cambridge University and the treasurer of the RAS, walks in. He looks at May and blinks. May blinks back at him. The two men sit down and talk, with great passion and interest, about new developments in astronomy. They discuss the telescope in Tenerife, which when completed will be the biggest in the world. May has been invited to write and perform a piece of music for the grand opening.
"Yes," says Murdin, "of course the difficulty will be to write something that is inspiring without being sentimental."
May looks fleetingly glum. Then the professor asks him about his special interests.
Murdin blinks. Then he gives May the name of an eminent scholar in the US who might be willing to supervise the musician, should he wish to complete his PhD. ("Fortunately for me," May tells me, "zodiacal light has become kind of trendy again, because we're finding zodiacal clouds around other stars now, as you probably know.")
Tentatively, May says, "Would it be OK if I just emailed him, out of the blue?"
Even Murdin is cognisant of the modesty of this remark. "I think that would be fine," he says and from their different planets, the two men smile warmly at one another.
May co-authored Bang! The Complete History of the Universe with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott.