New Computer Simulation Produces Visually Stunning Model of the Universe

For the first time, scientists have succeeded in producing a realistic model of the evolution of the universe that replicates the formation of its many […]

For the first time, scientists have succeeded in producing a realistic model of the evolution of the universe that replicates the formation of its many composite stars and galaxies. This incredible feat was achieved by combining state-of-the-art supercomputers and nifty algorithm called AREPO. While it would take more than 2000 years to run these models on a laptop, supercomputers can complete this task in just three months. 

The results of this primary experiment are reported in Nature. The simulation condenses the history of the Universe – a mere 13 billion years – into just two and a half minutes of simulated footage. The researchers devised the model by combining  theories of cosmology with estimates of the composition and distribution of material within the Universe one billion years after the solar system was formed. The incorporation of dark matter – an enigmatic and invisible substance previously implicated in the formation of the Universe – conferred unparalleled accuracy upon this simulation.

Dark matter is the first material to evolve in this simulation, existing as wispy branches across the universe which start to clump together over time. This provided nuclei for galaxies to form. The next stage was characterised by the appearance of visible matter, and an early chaotic period in which cataclysmic explosions led to the formation of black holes and recurrent regurgitation of matter.

The results of the model provide support for some cosmological theories, notably the notion that dark matter provided a framework for the subsequent emergence of visible matter. Moreover, this model is the first to reproduce the large and small scale features observed in the galaxies in terms of their diverse characteristics and distribution, including their metal and hydrogen content. The scientists behind this major advance hope that it will advance our understanding of dark energy.

A video showing part of the simulation can be seen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27299017

Helen Ashcroft

About Helen Ashcroft

Helen is studying for her DPhil in Earth Sciences.