Astronomers witnessed a supernova in progress, observing jets of material moving at relativistic speeds: up to half the speed of light. Scientist Megan Argo wanted to explain this exciting discovery to the public, so she wrote a Doctor Who story.
As the highly technical press release explains, scientists were able to detect "relativistic outflow" in a supernova for the first time, thanks to unprecedented cooperation between radio telescopes using Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). They discovered that one narrow bipolar jet of material was moving at half the speed of light.
But Argo, who works at Curtin University, came up with a much cooler way to explain this discovery to the public, the story called "Doctor Who And The Silver Spiral." David Tennant's Doctor, accompanied by Martha, visit this supernova up close and personal, and get caught up in the very same shock wave that astronomers just discovered. Argo does a great job of capturing the Tennant Doctor's verbal tics.
"You see that one?" he said, pointing to a large red star to one side of the cluster. "It's just one ordinary star doing what it does but, any minute now, for a tiny fraction of time, it will become brighter than this entire galaxy! The explosion will be visible in the skies of thousands of species across hundreds of galaxies. To most of them it's just another transient star, but not you humans, oh no! Scientists on your planet point as many telescopes as they can at it. They even give it a name: 2007gr."
"No, not very poetic really," he admitted. "Logical though - because they discover it in 2007. You lot, all you've got to understand the universe are the photons you collect, those tiny little pathetic scraps of energy that travel on through the universe until they hit something. And yet you know so much! That's what I love about you humans, always curious, always trying to understand, study and catalogue the universe, and, even when you don't know all the facts, always blundering on..."
"You can talk!" retorted Martha.
"Yeah... gets me into trouble," he said with a grin that stretched from ear to ear, "but that's half the fun!"
It's great to see Doctor Who being used to teach actual science, and the story's actually quite a fun read, thanks to Argo's clear devotion to the show. (She tells Sky Mania the show is partly to blame for her becoming a scientist in the first place, and she remembers learning about entropy from the 1981 story "Logopolis.") You can read Argo's supernova story here, and listen to it as an mp3 here.