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Talk about a cure that's worse than the disease. A proposed quantum field can account for the universe's ever-quickening expansion, but it would also trigger the universe's death in a catastrophic collapse.

In 1998, astronomers discovered that the universe has been ballooning at ever-faster rates for the past few billion years. They dubbed the mysterious entity responsible "dark energy" and have been striving to identify it ever sinceMovie Camera.

The simplest explanation is that particles briefly bubbling into and out of existence imbue every cupful of space with the energy needed to accelerate the universe's growth. But this quantum stew, known as vacuum energy, is no panacea.

Energy, like matter, causes space to curve, according to Einstein's general theory of relativity. Calculations suggest that this vacuum energy is so strong that it would make the universe curve in on itself until it spans less than the distance from Earth to the moon – and clearly it's bigger.

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