AE Aquarii is a cataclysmic variable binary star of the DQ Herculis type. Based upon parallax measurements, the system is located at a distance of about 280 light-years (86 parsecs) from the Earth. Because of its unique properties, this system has been subject to a number of scientific studies.
The AE Aquarii system consisting of an ordinary star in a close orbit around a magnetic white dwarf; the pair orbit each other with a period of 9.88 hours. The white dwarf primary has 63% of the Sun's mass but a radius of only about 1% of the Sun. As of 2009, it has the shortest known spin period of any white dwarf, completing a full revolution every 33.08 seconds. This spin is decreasing at a rate of 1.78 ns per year, which is unusually high. The secondary star has a stellar classification of K4-5 V, making it a main sequence star that is generating energy at its core through the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen. It has about 37% of the Sun's mass but 79% of the Sun's radius.
This system displays flare activity that has been observed across multiple bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, including X-rays. Mass is being lost from the secondary star, most of which is being flung out of the system by the rapidly spinning magnetic primary. The X-ray luminosity is likely being caused by the accretion of mass onto the white dwarf, which is occurring at an estimated rate of about 7.3 × 1010 kg per second.