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Quintessence and phantom fields, two hypotheses formulated using data from satellites, such as Planck and WMAP, are among the many theories that try to explain the nature of dark energy. Now researchers from Barcelona and Athens suggest that both possibilities are only a mirage in the observations and it is the quantum vacuum which could be behind this energy that moves our universe.

Cosmologists believe that some three quarters of the universe are made up of a mysterious dark energy which would explain its accelerated expansion. The truth is that they do not know what it could be, therefore they put forward possible solutions.

One is the existence of quintessence, an invisible gravitating agent that instead of attracting, repels and accelerates the expansion of the cosmos. From the Classical World until the Middle Ages, this term has referred to the ether or fifth element of nature, together with earth, fire, water and air.

Another possibility is the presence of an energy or phantom field whose density increases with time, causing an exponential cosmic acceleration. This would reach such speed that it could break the nuclear forces in the atoms and end the universe in some 20,000 million years, in what is called the Big Rip.

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