Astronomers discover new phenomenon as white dwarf star switches 'on and off' in 30 minutes

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Astronomers have discovered a new cosmic phenomenon in which a white dwarf star has been switching "off and on", with its brightness dipping and strengthening in just 30 minutes.

The discovery was based on observations from a NASA satellite searching for alien planets, and described as "extraordinary" by a team of astronomers at Durham University and their partners across the world.

Initially they believed the fluctuations were something that was interfering with the way the white dwarf, which is part of a binary system, was feeding from a companion star - but they did not expect the cause to be as unique as it turned out to be.

As the flow of material from a donor star to the main white dwarf is governed by gravity it should remain relatively constant, so there was no obvious reason why the star's luminosity would change on such short timescales as were being seen.

The researchers realised what was happening was something that had never been seen before - repeated and rapid reconfigurations of the white dwarf's surface magnetic field.

 
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