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Most stars eventually become white dwarfs, but along the way expand into red giants, while their cores shrink and undergo a short but intense phase of helium fusion. Yet gobbling up a Jupiter-sized planet as they expand can affect that process, says Brad Hansen at the University of California, Los Angeles.
He calculates that if the planet is swallowed at the right moment, its gravity can peel off the star's outer layers. The star's exposed core never gets hot enough to fuse helium, so the resulting white dwarf is less massive and looks younger than it should for its age.
A group of white dwarfs with precisely those characteristics was observed three years ago in the star cluster NGC 6791.