Watch This: The Most Realistic Simulation of Spiral Galaxy Formation to Date

By Joseph Castro | August 30, 2011 3:29 pm

For the first time, astrophysicists have created a computer simulation of the formation of a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way (above).  Researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Zurich modeled their galaxy, Eris, using a software platform called Gasoline, which allowed them to track the motion of 60 million particles of gas and dark matter for over 13 billion simulated years. Overall, the simulation required 9 months of number crunching on NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer, with supporting simulations on supercomputers at UCSC and the Swiss National Supercomputing Center.

Previous efforts to model spiral galaxies have failed, ending in disfigured galaxies with central bulges much too large for their disks, according to the researchers. But Eris’ bulge-to-disk ratio, stellar content, and other features fall in line with observations of the Milky Way. The researchers point to a realistic model of star formation as a key to Eris’ success—their high-resolution simulation allowed stars to form only in regions with a high density of particles, resulting in a more accurate distribution of stars. More than just a nice movie, the work supports the cold dark matter theory, which says that the gravitational interactions of dark matter drove the evolution of the universe. A paper detailing the Eris simulation will be published in an upcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

[Read more at MSNBC and io9]

  • Dan

    Just an opinion! Did they introduce the relativity of time? Where in hell was the observer? Considering the music you should open a dance club.

  • boondox

    this is the coolest thing i’ve ever seen. behaviors of galaxies and everything in space, just sped up and looked at like a movie is really gorgeous and exciting and shows that the meaning of life means that you’re alive to experience this. the universe is infinite

  • Joseph

    wow, I remember reading this information in the seventh grade!

  • karthik

    good stuff…………………

  • Matt

    The word “Big Bang” in referring to the creation off the universe has worn out it’s welcome.

  • AR Tresh

    “…., which allowed them to track the motion of 60 million particles of gas and dark matter for over 13 billion simulated years.”

    If DARK MATTER remains an unknown quantity how could it have been simulated?

  • floodmouse

    “If DARK MATTER remains an unknown quantity how could it have been simulated?” – “Dark matter” is just something made up to explain an otherwise unexplained gravity effect that can be measured mathematically. What they’re really simulating is this measurement . . .

    Disclaimer: I am SO far from being a mathematician that you probably shouldn’t take my word for this.

  • Justin

    Very, very cool. However, if I could make one change, I would have some type of counter in a corner giving a rough idea of the time passage per second or something along those lines. Otherwise, awesome!

  • Kevin Johnson

    I congratulate the scientists that created this program, but I take it with a grain of salt. When scientists can model the weather and successfully predict what will happen two weeks in advance with a computer, then I will trust a simulation of the birth and formation of a galaxy which is massively more complex. We have to learn to crawl before we can walk I guess.

  • red

    Anybody can make a simulated program that can go through some sort of collection processes and end up looking like our galaxy. But there is no way for scientists to know all the forces (or force carriers) and the way things interacted over a billion years. I think it is naive to think just because we have a good handle on how things in the universe are currently working (over our insanely brief existence) that somehow we can just rewind things and know how the universe looked and acted billions of years ago. Personal opinion: while it ends up looking like a galaxy I don’t think it is at all how they formed. It looks like a huge portion of the matter is just pored in from the top. And for all of those who think that time is real, at least down at the quantum level, are sadly mistaken. For how we have defined time makes it impossible to try and understand something that truly has no meaning of of the human construct of time. One day physicists will see this error.

  • Ken Albertsen

    very cool, particularly the first seconds. However, the center (giant black hole?) appears to be spinning in the opposing direction than the arms of the galaxy. Is that a visual oddity – like wheels appearing to spin backwards on vehicles on film?

  • MadSciKat =^..^=

    What? No hi-def version? I want my money back!

  • realta fuar

    @red really? You could write such a program at home using excel, I suppose. Just because you can’t do something or know HOW to do something, that’s no reason to think that other people don’t. You don’t believe the simulation is realistic? then write a paper refuting the physics involved and stop spouting ignorant, indefensible opinions. Oh, sorry, EVERYONE’S opinion is now worth as much as people who spend their lives studying a given phenomena; my mistake….


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