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Astronomers have a pretty good idea how the universe began and the near-14 billion years of evolution after, but throwing all our knowledge behind one grand computer simulation has been hard. The task at hand has simply too huge for any one computer to handle.
Today, however, astronomers have announced the results of three months of computer number-crunching, combining 8,000 CPUs all running in parallel, modeling our evolving universe. If the same simulation was carried out on your office desktop computer, the simulation would take 2,000 years to recreate.
Previous work has either focused on a tiny portion of cosmic volume or had been too low a resolution. This study, however, has created a cube 350 million light-years across and over 13 billion years of simulated time at an unprecedented resolution. This work has been published in the May 8 edition of the journal Nature.
The most striking thing about this virtual universe is its uncanny resemblance to observations made by today’s observatories. The recreation of the array of galaxies we see deep in the furthest-most reaches of the universe form in strikingly familiar shapes and sizes.
The model, called Illustris, created a 3-D space filled with 12 billion pixels, all calculating the fundamental equations that govern normal (and dark) matter. The researchers can now zoom in on regions of interest to focus on different mechanisms as they unfold. When they kicked off the simulation 12 million simulated years after the Big Bang, some 41,000 galaxies condensed into numerous galactic cluster from the seemingly chaotic churning of matter.