‘Illustris’ Time-lapse Video Shows 13 Billion Year Simulation of Universe Evolution
Scientists have created the most detailed computer simulation of the history of the universe.
This new virtual cosmos, designed by U.S., German and British researchers, comes complete with twisting galaxies, exploding gas clouds and mysterious black holes.
Called Illustris, the numerical-based model covers the 13 billion-year evolution of the universe beginning just 12 million years after the Big Bang.
The simulation, which accurately depicts the distribution and composition of various types of galaxies, was developed by a team led by astrophysicist Mark Vogelsberger of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
It covers cosmic evolution in a cube with a side length 350 million light-years with unprecedented resolution.
‘Until now, no single simulation was able to reproduce the universe on both large and small scales simultaneously,’ said Professor Vogelsberger.
Previous attempts to simulate the universe were hampered by lack of computing power and the complexities of the underlying physics.
As a result those programs either were limited in resolution, or forced to focus on a small portion of the universe.
Earlier simulations also had trouble modelling complex feedback from star formation, supernova explosions, and supermassive black holes.
The team dedicated five years to developing the Illustris program. The actual calculations took 3 months of ‘run time,’ using a total of 8,000 computer processing units running in parallel.
If they had used an average desktop computer, the calculations would have taken more than 2,000 years to complete.
The computer simulation began a mere 12 million years after the Big Bang. When it reached the present day, astronomers counted more than 41,000 galaxies in the cube of simulated space.
Importantly, Illustris yielded a realistic mix of spiral galaxies like the Milky Way and football-shaped elliptical galaxies.
It also recreated large-scale structures like galaxy clusters and the bubbles and voids of the cosmic web. On the small scale, it accurately recreated the chemistries of individual galaxies.
Since light travels at a fixed speed, the farther away astronomers look, the farther back in time they can see.
A galaxy one billion light-years away is seen as it was a billion years ago. Telescopes like Hubble can give us views of the early universe by looking to greater distances. However, astronomers can’t use Hubble to follow the evolution of a single galaxy over time.
‘Illustris is like a time machine. We can go forward and backward in time,’ said co-author Shy Genel.
‘We can pause the simulation and zoom into a single galaxy or galaxy cluster to see what’s really going on.’