An animation of the orbit of the white dwarf binary star system SS Cygni.

The white dwarf and its companion star are separated by just under a million miles, and orbit each other once every six and a half hours. The strong gravity of the white dwarf distorts the companion star, so that gas from the star falls in towards the white dwarf via an accretion disc.

The disc gets so hot that it heats the facing surface of the companion star. Fast-moving jets are launched from the central parts of the disc and give off radio waves.

Astronomers used these radio waves to measure the distance to the star system as 372 light years from Earth.

Credit: J. Miller-Jones (ICRAR), using software created by R. Hynes.

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