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Supercomputer simulates 13 billion years of evolution of the universe [Video]

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A team of researchers from different institutions have collaborated on a massive project involving the simulation of the universe's evolution. The complex simulation was conducted using powerful supercomputers.

Even with the massive strides being made in astronomy and cosmology, scientists still know very little about the mysteries of the universe. From its explosive beginnings during the Big Bang up until today, researchers have struggled to learn more about the evolution of the universe. While numerous theories are floating around, even the world's best experts can only speculate about the future of the universe, which is still shrouded in mystery. By using the new Illustris computer simulation model of the universe, researchers hope to uncover more information about how the universe started and where it is headed.

"With this model, we are able to get agreement with observational data on small scales and large scales," said MIT assistant professor of physics Mark Vogelsberger. Vogelsberger is one of the authors of the paper on the subject published in the online journal Nature.

The model takes into consideration up to 13 billion years' worth of universal evolution. Aside from confirming some of the theories about the current structure of the universe, the simulations also shed new light on the possible distribution of matter throughout the cosmos. Moreover, the extensive computer model also showed how different types of galaxies were scattered throughout the universe. The model also highlighted the frequency at which certain types of galaxies occurred.

"Some galaxies are more elliptical and some are more like the Milky Way, [spiral] disc-type galaxies," Vogelsberger said. "There is a certain ratio in the universe. We get the ratio right. That was not achieved before."

With the current Illustris model, the researchers were able to model up to 41,416 galaxies. Upon closer examination, the model also lines up nicely with known empirical data about galaxies. To produce the complicated model, the researchers simulated the universe using three scales. The first and largest o the scales involved galaxy filaments, which are also sometimes referred to as Great Walls. These filaments are composed of galaxy superclusters. These superclusters are in turn made up of thousands of galaxies. 

The second scale modeled the actual galaxies within the super clusters. At this scale, scientists were able to see the distribution of the different types of galaxies. The third scale involved simulating stellar nurseries, clouds of gas where starts are formed.

To date, the Illustris model has simulated a cube-shaped section of the cosmos. One side of the model is estimated to be a jaw-dropping 350 million light years in length. Despite the seemingly large scale of the simulation, scientists can also zoom in on smaller sections down to 1,000 light years in length.

"For the past two decades, cosmologists have been unable to produce galaxies like the Milky Way in their simulations," said Princeton University astronomy professor David Spergel. "We have long debated whether this failure was due to complex dark matter physics, unknown stellar feedbacks, or the difficulties in simulating the highly non-linear multi-scale process of galaxy formation ... With their simulations, [the researchers] finally produce galaxies that look like our own."

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