Astronomers have detected a bright X-ray outburst from a star in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a nearby galaxy almost 200,000 light years from Earth. A combination of X-ray and optical data indicate that the source of this radiation is a white dwarf star that may be the fastest-growing white dwarf ever observed.
In several billion years, our Sun will run out of most of its nuclear fuel and shrink down to a much smaller, fainter “white dwarf” star about the size of Earth. Because a mass equivalent to that of the Sun is packed into such a small volume, the gravity on the surface of a white dwarf is several hundred thousand times that of Earth.
Unlike our Sun, most stars including white dwarfs, do not exist in isolation, but instead are part of pairs called “binary systems.” If the stars are close enough, the gravity of the white dwarf can pull matter away from its companion.