The Doctor and the supernova

By Phil Plait | February 18, 2010 2:05 pm

If I had a TARDIS, you know the first thing I would do is go see what a supernova looks like up close. I’ve even tossed around the idea of a little fanfic… but Megan Argo beat me to it. She’s a radio astronomer at the Curtin University of Technology in Australia, and she wrote up a cute and engaging account of The Doctor and Martha witnessing an unusual exploding star (an audio version of the tale is available too)

The cool thing is, the story she wrote is actually part of a real event: the explosion of supernova SN2007gr, the death of a massive star. 2007gr was a Type Ic supernova, which is a star much more massive than the Sun, but has lost the majority of its outer layers over time due to a super-stellar wind. The core is basically all that’s left, and when it runs out of fuel it collapses and then explodes.


2007gr was seen to have gas screaming away from it at almost half the speed of light, far faster than is typical for an exploding star. That means that the gas was focused into twin beams, probably shaped that way by the material swirling around the newly-formed black hole at its heart that formed in milliseconds after the collapse. It wasn’t strong enough to be a monumentally violent gamma-ray burst, but it instead a sort-of hybrid object, one part normal supernova and one part GRB. We’ve known for some time that there is a connection between the two objects, but the actual events are difficult to study because they’re uncommon. Supernova 2007gr is a rare opportunity to study one in detail.

But not as much detail as we could see if we had a time machine. Oh Doctor, there are some many things you could show us. But, I suppose, most of the fun is in figuring it out for ourselves.

Related posts:
New Burst Vaproizes Cosmic Distance Record
GORT bags a burst
Earth was in the crosshairs

Image: SN: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss; TARDIS: BBC; composition: Megan Argo

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Geekery, SciFi, TV/Movies

Comments (15)

  1. Keith Harwood

    I think you mean Curtin University, not Curtain.

  2. The first thing I’d do is check out some dinosaurs. Why has no companion ever demanded that the Doctor take them to the Cretaceous? What is wrong with these people?

  3. @Dan Wallace: Just don’t go sightseeing on the same day Adric shows up.

  4. Dan, even if the companion asked, it’s possible the Doctor wouldn’t oblige. After all, he was there when the anti-matter from a space freighter killed all the dinosaurs – and he lost one of his companions in the process! It’s probably kind of a sore point with him.

    I know it was a shock to me…

  5. Didn’t he use energy from a supernova to have his hologram moment with Rose? I doubt he gets that excited about them though, since his people invented black holes…

    Oh gods I’m such a geek. :/

  6. Jamey

    Um… Just how close do you call “up close”? I think at 40-50 AUs, it might be a little unhealthy. In fact, a parsec might be a bit unhealthy.

  7. Hooray! You posted it! I was hoping you would.

  8. Megan

    Haha, fantastic! Cheers Phil :-)

    @Keith you’re right, it is Curtin rather than Curtain… don’t you love spell check?!

  9. jcm

    Unfortunately my cable provider does include BBC in the basic package, so I can’t watch this show.

  10. jcm

    Edit: I found this clip on YouTbe, but I does not do justice, I think, to a supernova explosion. Fast forward to about 2:00

  11. I think that you should have a persistent topic for random suggestions, perhaps something you want to elabourate on, as opposed to followups to particular posts. Since you don’t, I’ll post a non-relevant comment here, since you might be interested in expanding it into a post. The text is in German, but the video is self-explanatory.,1518,678817-3,00.html

    Not only does the machine solve Rubik’s cube, but the machine is built out of Legos!

  12. Hm, in the audio version they changed Martha to Emma.

    I doubt he gets that excited about them though, since his people invented black holes…

    I don’t know about that. He gets excited over all sorts of things that he shouldn’t get excited about.

  13. Megan

    @jcm That’s when the Sun turns into a red giant: neat, but not quite as violent as a supernova ūüėČ

    @TheSciencePundit Yes, they did that because the Darker Projects team produce their own fan fiction version of Doctor Who. They modified the story I wrote for their existing characters to fit in with that series.

  14. Navneeth

    Oh, so this Doctor Who character isn’t actually human? Hm, didn’t know that.

    And to Megan Argo, that was very nice piece of work. Kids should be made to read stuff like this.

  15. Megan

    @Navneeth Thanks! But I would hope that kids might read stuff like this because it’s fun, education by stealth ūüėČ


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