On Earth, we're used to eclipses that last just seconds: but imagine one that puts you in the dark for three and a half years.

That is just what happens every 70 years in a binary star system, nearly 10,000 light years from Earth.

The newly discovered, and as yet unnamed, system sets a new record for both the longest duration stellar eclipse and the longest period between eclipses in a binary system.

"It's the longest duration stellar eclipse and the longest orbit for an eclipsing binary ever found ... by far," said researcher Joey Rodriguez, of Vanderbilt University in the United States.

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The previous record holder was Epsilon Aurigae, a giant star that is eclipsed by its companion every 27 years for 640 to 730 days a time.