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M-theory through the looking glass: Tachyon condensation in the E8 heterotic string

Abstract

We study the spacetime decay to nothing in string theory and M-theory. First we recall a nonsupersymmetric version of heterotic M-theory, in which bubbles of nothing -- connecting the two E_8 boundaries by a throat -- are expected to be nucleated. We argue that the fate of this system should be addressed at weak string coupling, where the nonperturbative instanton instability is expected to turn into a perturbative tachyonic one. We identify the unique string theory that could describe this process: The heterotic model with one E_8 gauge group and a singlet tachyon. We then use worldsheet methods to study the tachyon condensation in the NSR formulation of this model, and show that it induces a worldsheet super-Higgs effect. The main theme of our analysis is the possibility of making meaningful alternative gauge choices for worldsheet supersymmetry, in place of the conventional superconformal gauge. We show in a version of unitary gauge how the worldsheet gravitino assimilates the goldstino and becomes dynamical. This picture clarifies recent results of Hellerman and Swanson. We also present analogs of R_\xi gauges, and note the importance of logarithmic CFT in the context of tachyon condensation.

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