Science: A Celestial Odd Couple

Two massive stars carry closeness a bit far

Astronomers are used to dealing in extremes, but no one had ever discovered anything like this before: a pair of superdense stars a mere 80,000 miles apart, locked in a gravitational embrace, one orbiting the other every 11 1/2 minutes and spewing X rays at a temperature of 50 million degrees Fahrenheit. Says Nicholas White of the European Space Agency's EXOSAT observatory in Darmstadt, West Germany: "What we've got is a system you could fit between the earth and the moon that generates 100,000 times more luminosity than the sun."

That luminosity is largely manifested not in visible light but in...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!