Astronomers have spotted something very strange 380 light-years away. It looks a bit like the Death Star firing its planet-destroying beam of energy at a nearby planet, only this involves a very natural — though highly unusual — occurrence between a white dwarf star and its neighboring red dwarf companion, according to a recent press release from The Hubble European Space Agency Information Centre.

The oddity was first spotted last year when a group of amateur astronomers from Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom noticed a star system that seemed to brighten and fade dramatically every 1.97 minutes. Further investigation from the University of Warwick using a multitude of telescopes on the ground and in space, including the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, has revealed that this star system is actually a binary one that comprises of a rapidly spinning white dwarf and a cooler red dwarf companion star.

That's not what makes this system weird, though. The white dwarf appears to be firing a ray beam at the red dwarf, like some sort of cosmic laser gun. Researchers have learned that the white dwarf is spinning so rapidly that it accelerates electrons up to almost the speed of light, and flings them at its companion. These powerful pulses include radiation at radio frequencies, which is something you might expect from a neutron star, not a white dwarf system.

The mystery only deepens, however. Scientists aren't sure where the electrons are coming from. They might even be coming from the red dwarf itself, which would certainly be an unexpected twist.

It just goes to show that the universe is far more bizarre than simpler, conventional models can possibly account for.

"We've known about pulsing neutron stars for nearly fifty years, and some theories predicted white dwarfs could show similar behavior. It's very exciting that we have discovered such a system, and it has been a fantastic example of amateur astronomers and academics working together," said Boris Gänsicke, co-author of the new study.

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

White dwarf discovered that blasts a strange ray beam at companion star
A very unusual light show can be witnessed in this binary star system 380 light-years away.