Doctor Who and the star of doom

A space scientist is today announcing a major cosmic discovery by telling it as a Doctor Who story. Astronomer Dr Megan Argo was working at Jodrell Bank with an international team that detected a powerful jet of energy from a star exploding in a distant galaxy as a catastrophic supernova.

Megan’s own artwork
Megan’s own artwork for her blog post. Credit: Megan Argo

The breakthrough is being officially announced in heavily technical language to the world of science today by the journal Nature. But Megan, 28, a keen fan of British scifi favourite Doctor Who decided to write it up as a fan-fiction adventure to bring home the excitement of the team’s finding to ordinary people.

Her story, Doctor Who and the Silver Spiral, which she is posting today on her blog, sees David Tennant’s Doctor take companion Martha (Update: Emma in the subsequent audio drama) to a point in the universe where they can look down on the galaxy in the constellation of Perseus.

Called NGC 1058, this cosmic city of hundreds of millions of stars lies 35 million light-years away from Earth. The supernova is labelled 2007gr.

The Doctor tells her they are waiting to see the star explode. Then they watch the stellar suicide followed by the jets of material, travelling at half the speed of light, that are being announced in Nature.

NGC1058 – a spiral galaxy in Perseus
NGC1058 – a spiral galaxy in Perseus and the host of supernova 2007gr. (Credit: Bob Ferguson and Richard Desruisseau/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF)

As a lifelong Doctor Who fan myself, I can reveal that the story is a fans’ delight and brilliantly captured the personality of the Tenth Doctor.

Megan, from Macclesfield, Cheshire, told Skymania News: “I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since I was a child. It was partially to blame for me becoming a scientist.

“I first came across an concept called entropy in a Doctor Who story called Logopolis and remember being fascinated, even though it was some ten years before it was ever mentioned in a physics lesson.”

Megan made her contribution towards the latest discovery at Jodrell Bank, near Manchester, using a UK network of radio telescopes called Merlin. She is now doing a post doc at the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia.

She says she showed her Doctor Who story to the rest of the team involved in the supernova discovery. Megan said: “I sent it to my collaborators and they liked it too. I’ve never had so much interest in anything I’ve ever written!”

The official paper in Nature is entitled “A mildly relativistic radio jet from the normal Type Ic Supernova 2007gr” by Paragi et al.

Update: Darker Projects have turned Megan’s story into an audio drama. Listen to it here!

• Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania’s advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available.

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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