A simulation of the universe's evolution produced with massive supercomputer power, is the most accurate ever and has already yielded some new predictions about matter throughout the cosmos, researchers say.
Dubbed Illustris, the simulation of 13 billion years in the growth and evolution of the universe has accurately modeled how often galaxies of certain different shapes occur, and yields accurate percentages of elements distributed across space.
"With this model, we are able to get agreement with observational data on small scales and large scales," says MIT physics Professor Mark Vogelsberger, first author of a study published in Nature describing the modeling project.
Using a "universe in a cube" model, the supercomputers created a representation of a volume of space 350 million lightyears from one side to the other.
That's sufficiently large to contain a representation of the entire universe, the researchers said.
Within the cube, however, researchers can zoom down to see detail at the scale of individual galaxies.
The model uses more than 100,000 lines of computer code to encapsulate and codify the known laws of physics and what has been learned of normal matter, elusive dark matter, plus just-as-mysterious dark energy.
The model begins at just 12 million years following the Big Bang in the Universe's relative youth, and then the researchers allowed it to run through 13 billion years of the universe's evolution.
Even using a network of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, in both the United States and Europe, the simulation took months to create because of the amount of data involved.
Running it "took approximately 16 million CPU (central processing unit) hours," University of Maryland astronomer Michael Boylan-Kolchin says. "The end result, however, is a simulated Universe that looks an awful lot like the real one."
The model has demonstrated impressive fidelity to the observable universe, and has managed to create models of galaxies exactly like the one we are in.
"For the past two decades, cosmologists have been unable to produce galaxies like the Milky Way in their simulations," says Princeton University astronomy Professor David Spergel.
But the Illustris model very accurately produced spiral example identical to our home galaxy, the researchers said.