Artwork of ‘big rip’, a scenario where a continual increase in dark energy causes the universe to tear itself apart. Dark energy drives the expansion of the universe. If it has a certain value, then the expansion of the fabric of the universe occurs at an ever-increasing rate. This would cause structures to tear apart, beginning with galaxy clusters, then galaxies, then stars and planets (like the Earth), and finally the individual atoms and particles that make up matter itself. If the theory is correct, the universe will end in around 20 billion years’ time.