Moviegoers who flocked to see the 2007 film Sunshine — in which a motley crew of astronauts embark on a doomed mission to save the sun from imminent "death" — probably didn't stress overmuch about whether or not the science was accurate (unless they happened to be science bloggers). But as far as movie science goes, the underlying premise, while hypothetical, wasn't all that far-fetched.
The filmmakers had help from physicist Brian Cox, who devised an intriguing explanation for why our sun might be dying in 50 years rather than five billion years: "Q balls", the nucleus of the hypothetical supersymmetrical particles. Assuming Q balls exist, if a nucleus were to become lodged in the sun, it would devour the sun, ripping apart protons and neutrons and turning them into more supersymmetrical particles.
Supersymmetry predicts the existence of "sparticles": mirror particles of all the known particles in the Standard Model that some scientists think may have once been abundant in the early universe (as in, the a split second after the Big Bang). It wouldn't have been so much a quark soup, as a "squark soup" — a veritable sea of squarks and slepons (the supersymmetric versions of quarks and leptons).
A decade or so ago, a pair of physicists named Alexander Kusenko and Mikhail Shaposhnikov proposed that because such a soup would exhibit tiny variations in density, the slightly denser areas could clump together; and if those clumps got big enough, they would form very heavy Q balls which should still exist today, perhaps accounting for at least some of the dark matter in our universe. Kusenko describes Q balls as being like "a new universe in a nutshell" in which the usual physical forces that hold everything in the universe together just don't exist. Q balls are the ultimate rebels, and don't play well with others.
Alas, Q balls are very hard to spot (assuming they exist); Kusenko — who clearly has a poetical bent — has compared the movement of a Q ball through, say, a planet or a star (like our sun) to a bullet passing through a cloud of vapor. Unless that star happened to be a neutron star, in which case the Q ball would gobble up all the neutrons in the star, eating it from the inside out, until the star exploded as a mini-supernova. Suddenly the term "eat your heart out" becomes very literal, if you happen to be a neutron star.
Scientists would dearly love to test some of these predictions. Neutrino detectors such as IceCube in Antarctica, ANTARES in the Mediterranean, and Japan's SuperKamiokande experiment might be able to spot them. But the best shot might lie with CERN's Large Hadron Collider; finding evidence of supersymmetry is one of the mega-project's major objectives, after all, and the LHC will be able to reach unprecedented energies once it becomes fully operational.
And at that point, who knows? Science could very well start to mimic science fiction.