MARK GARLICK / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY MARK GARLICK / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Illustration of a pair of stars about to merge. The objects in question are stellar corpses. On the left is a neutron star, the compact remains of a star which exploded in a supernova. It is mere kilometres across. On the right is a white dwarf, a different kind of dead star (roughly the size of the Earth) created when a Sun-like star dies. The two stars are so close together that the larger white dwarf is severely distorted by the powerful gravity of its compact partner, and its gases are stripped off forming a messy disc around the neutron star. Eventually the stars will merge.
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