Infinite expansions: space, chess and music

by André Schulz
1/4/2022 – On Christmas Day, the James Webb Telescope began its long journey into space, as it is expected to provide new insights into the early history of the universe. The infinite expanses have inspired many artists. Music, the stars and chess are magically connected — says Jason Kouchak. | Photo: “Starlight” by Julian Paix

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According to an old saying, the game of chess offers more possibilities “than there are atoms in the universe”. This is perhaps a somewhat exaggerated description of the possible moves in chess: who could ever calculate the atoms in space exactly? But still: the infinite vastness of space and the almost infinite variety of the game of chess seem to be connected. Perhaps that is why Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was convinced that chess had been given to mankind by extraterrestrials...

On Christmas Day, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched into space by an Ariane 5 rocket from the Space Centre in French Guyana. The telescope, named after a former NASA administrator, is a joint project of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) and, as the successor to the Hubble telescope, is set to collect and evaluate information about the history of the universe through measurements in the infrared light spectrum. Originally, the telescope was to be launched into space as early as 2007, but due to the ever-increasing costs of the project, it was temporarily interrupted  — but then continued. At just under $10 billion, it is the most expensive project in space history.

After 30 days, the James Webb Telescope will reach a point 1.5 million km away between the Earth and the Sun, the Lagrange point L2, and orbit around this point. The entire mission is designed to last a maximum of 10.5 years. Then the telescope will run out of fuel. From the measurements, the scientists involved in the project hope to gain new insights, especially into the early history of the universe.

This space mission is being carried out 60 years after the first manned space flight. On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth in a 106-minute flight in a Vostok 1 space capsule.

Yuri Gagarin, Grigory Nelyubov and Nikolai Kamanin play chess during the flight to the Baikonur Cosmodrome (KAZ)

Unfortunately, Gagarin, who was born in 1934, died tragically in 1968 when a training plane crashed.

As is well known, the first chess programme in space was the Fritz programme:

Observing the stars and exploring space — the term “conquest” is perhaps going a bit too far — has always inspired people to think about their own role ‘in the big picture’. Their thoughts on this have found their way into literature, the visual arts, music, and also chess.

The French musician Jason Kouchak let his feelings flow into two compositions for the 60th anniversary of the first manned space flight.

Composition on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the first manned space flight

Composition for the 60th Anniversary of Yury Gagarin’s flight into space


The Stars are in my Eyes 

The stars are in my eyes
A thousand lights above me
Journey to a world still unknown
Where I’m never alone

The stars are in my eyes
Heaven’s high above me
Imagine all the wonders of space
The mystery of another place

Once in a moment beyond your destiny
reaching for answers in dreams you still believe


A conspicuous constellation is the Big Dipper. It consists of seven bright stars.


Jason Kouchak at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich on the winter solstice in 2021

The Pleiades also inspired Jason Kouchak to write a composition in which he recreated the constellation through his notes.

Jason Kouchak - Stargazer

Each of the seven stars corresponds to a melodic note in Kouchak’s musical composition.

A similar pattern is seen in a composition by Dr John Nunn on the chessboard, where the pieces are modelled according to the Pleiades in their arrangement.

Jason Kouchak approached his friend Dr John Nunn, who kindly composed this wonderful chess problem as a chess, astronomy and music project last year, to mark the Royal Astronomical Society’s 2020 bicentenary and the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic space flight.

Mate in three — solution at the end of the page

Even without a space telescope, you can see in the night sky the star group of the Pleiades, a cluster of 1200 stars in the Milky Way with seven particularly bright stars. In Greek mythology, they became nymphs accompanying the goddess Artemis. The Pleiades are also depicted on the Nebra Sky Disk, which was found some time ago.

Photo: NASA

In German chess history, by the way, the seven masters of the so-called ‘Berlin School’ are also called Pleiades. They were Ludwig Bledow (1795-1846), head of the Berlin Chess Society and founder of the Berlin or later German Chess Journal, the painter Karl Schorn (1803-1850), the endgame researcher Bernhard Horwitz (1807-1885), the jurist Carl Mayet (1810-1868), Wilhelm Hanstein (1811-1850), editor of the Berliner Schachzeitung from 1846, Paul Rudolf von Bilguer (1815-1840), author of the Handbuch des Schachspiels and Tassilo von Heydebrand (1818-1899), the main author of the Handbuch.

These seven chess enthusiasts played a major role in the development of chess culture in Germany. 

Among the chess fans of more recent times was pop star David Bowie. In his music, he has dealt with journeys into space a few times...

But also in his plays Ziggy Stardust, Starman or Life on Mars...

Like Jason Kouchak, the musician David Bowie was also a fan of chess. During breaks in the filming of the movie ‘The Hunger’ (Desire, 1983), he played with his fellow actress Catherine Deneuve.



The James Webb Telescope

The "James Webb Space Telescope" will explore the universe...

James Webb Telescop Launch: The Official NASA Broadcast

Solution to John Nunn’s mating problem: 1.Bf7! Kf5 2.Bd2! Ke5 3.Rd5#

Based on an idea by Jason Kouchak and Julian Paix.

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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