The universe is vast -- its sheer size making it difficult to study it thoroughly. Researchers from France and the United Kingdom understand this very well, turning to supercomputers Curie and Cosmology Machine, respectively, to get the job done. The result? A simulation like no other, which realistically captures the formation of galaxies.
Before the EAGLE (Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments) project, researchers have had to deal with simulations that are too old, too small, too massive and too spherical. As these simulations didn't reflect galaxies realistically, it was hard to use them in studying stars, black holes and the like in the universe. Now, researchers have more than enough material to study, with the EAGLE simulating conditions as far back as 14 billion years.
Published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the EAGLE project utilizes calculations for modeling structural formations in cosmological volume, featuring 100 Megaparsecs on a side. As that is equivalent to more than 300 million light-years, the EAGLE project is large enough for 10,000 galaxies, each one at least the size of the Milky Way. To compare galaxies, the project referred to the Hubble Deep field.
As one of, if not the actual, largest cosmological hydrodynamical simulations produced, the EAGLE project used close to 7 billion particles to demonstrate the physics behind the formation of galaxies. It took over a month and a half to complete the simulation even with a supercomputer running on 4000 cores.
"The universe generated by the computer is just like the real thing. There are galaxies everywhere, with all the shapes, sizes and colors I've seen with the world's largest telescopes. It is incredible. In the EAGLE universe, I can even press a button to make time run backwards," said Richard Bower, co-author of the study.
Beyond magnitude, how does the EAGLE project compare with other previous simulations? For starters, galaxies in EAGLE are lighter and younger as fewer stars are forming. At the same time, galactic winds produced by supermassive black holes, supernova explosions and stars are stronger, reflecting more accurate conditions in galaxies.
The EAGLE project was created by the Virgo Consortium for use in cosmological supercomputer simulations. Founded in 1994 in response to the High Performance Computing Initiative in the UK, Virgo is an international collaboration involving scientists from the UK, Netherlands, Germany, the United States, Canada and Japan.