Washington: Astronomers have successfully created the first realistic virtual universe using a computer simulation called "Illustris," which can recreate 13 billion years of cosmic evolution in a cube 350 million light-years on a side with unprecedented resolution.
Lead author Mark Vogelsberger (MIT/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), who conducted the work in collaboration with researchers at several institutions, including the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany, said until now, no single simulation was able to reproduce the universe on both large and small scales simultaneously.
Illustris employs a sophisticated computer program to recreate the evolution of the universe in high fidelity. It includes both normal matter and dark matter using 12 billion 3-D "pixels," or resolution elements.
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 CPUs 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.
The results are set to be published in the journal Nature.