Science: Waltz with Detonations

Except for varying brilliance, all sources of stellar light look much the same to the naked eye. But seen through the subtle, prying instruments of modern astronomy, those distant points of light expand into a bewildering variety of stars. Among the strangest are the dwarf novas, described by Astronomer Robert P. Kraft of Mount Wilson and Palomar observatories in the Astrophysical Journal.

Dwarf novas are dim stars that have the strange habit of flaring up at irregular intervals—increasing their brightness almost 100-fold. Astronomers have often speculated about these periodic changes, but until Dr. Kraft used the great 200-inch Palomar telescope to follow...

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