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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ thing of the day: scientist goes all fangirl geeky

From Scientific American (back in January):

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.

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.

Why would she do such a thing? The usual reason:

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.”

A bit from her Doctor Who story:

“So it’s a star that’s actually going to explode?”

“Yep!” he paused. “Well, technically, there’s a collapse first, then an explosion.”

“Oh.” She looked worried. “Hang on, aren’t we a bit close? Shouldn’t we, well, move out of the way?”

“Nah! We’ll be fine.”

“But it’s made of wood!”

“Trust me, she’s tougher than she looks.”

Pressing buttons, shifting levers and twisting knobs, the Doctor danced around the console. You’d never guess he was 900 years old, she thought, he acts more like an excitable five year old half the time.

“Doctor,” she asked, looking out at the star through the open door, “why does it collapse?”

“Hmm?” he said distractedly. “Oh, it runs out of fuel.”

“Like an engine?”

“More like a nuclear fusion reactor. The temperature and pressure in the core of a star are so high that hydrogen nuclei fuse together forming helium, that’s what creates all that heat and light that keeps Earth from freezing.”

“The Sun is a giant fusion reactor?” asked Martha in disbelief.

“Oh yeah, the Sun has been fusing hydrogen for, oooo, five billion years by your time.”

“Wow. So when a star runs out of hydrogen…. what, it stops?”

“Then,” he said excitedly, “it starts to shrink. The temperature and pressure go up as it collapses until it’s hot and dense enough that the helium nuclei start to undergo fusion.”

Read the whole thing here.

(Thanks to reader Patti H. for the link. If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)

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  • Lisa

    wish David Tennant had been my science teacher … did I write that out loud?

  • Alice

    Are we all sitting comfortably?

  • “But… it’s made of wood!”

    “And therefore…”

    (long pause) “A WITCH! A WITCH!”

  • kassia

    That! Is awesome.

  • Sok

    {snarkynitpick} I’d think that someone with Martha’s education would know that a star is a fusion cauldron, even if she wouldn’t know the particulars. {/snarkynitpick}

    But yes, I second kassia’s vote.

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