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A rare event has been identified in a brief detection of X-rays. Serendipity only pays off when you know what to do with it, and researchers have used the finding to verify a long-standing theory about a class of exploding star.
Even with the increasing amount of data archived in all-sky surveys, astronomical discovery still relies heavily on serendipity. Theory can guide the process (and sometimes lead it astray), but there is no ‘standard model’ for the Universe and everything in it, so progress is often driven by the unexpected. It takes a good observer to see something unusual and interpret it as noteworthy. Writing in Nature, König et al.1 have turned serendipity into success by correctly characterizing X-rays, detected in just 35.8 seconds, as the product of an exploding white dwarf — thus contributing to our understanding of the physics of these stars.