Evolution of the Universe Revealed in Computer Simulation

By Carl Engelking | May 7, 2014 2:59 pm

Grab some popcorn, turn on some Pink Floyd, and prepare to have your mind blown. Astronomers have created the most advanced simulation to date of the evolution of the universe over billions of years.

The simulation, called the Illustris, begins just 12 million years after the Big Bang and illustrates the formation of stars, heavy elements, galaxies, exploding supernovae and dark matter over the 14 billion years since. The simulation encapsulates the universe in a cube roughly 350 million light years on each side. The powerful simulation was presented in a paper published in the journal Nature.

Beefed up Computer Power

In order to capture the history of the universe in a box, you need a lot of computing power. Astronomers dedicated five years to programming Illustris, and it took 8,000 CPUs running in unison three months to crunch all the numbers that the model is based on, according to the Illustris website. It would have taken an average desktop computer over 2,000 years to complete the calculations.

Previous simulations, limited by computing power, either focused on a very small corner of the universe or displayed results in low resolution.

Researchers can use the tool to study cosmic phenomena, such as galaxy formation,  at specific points in the history of the universe.

And just like the actual universe, developers say there are still many areas of the simulated universe that remain unexplored as they continue to investigate its results.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: big bang, cosmology
  • Max Friedenberg

    How cool would it be to discover new phenomena in the simulation of the cosmos which are ultimately observed in the actual cosmos?

  • Robot Central

    What if life evolved in this simulation? Would the beings in there know? How would we feel about powering down the simulation or computers? #beyondawesome

    • emma852

      My Uncle Aaron just got an awesome 12 month
      old Audi A5 Convertible only from working part time off a home computer… find
      out here F­i­s­c­a­l­P­o­s­t­.­ℂ­o­m

    • cmp9969

      So the big bang would be the power of the computers turning on?

  • rogerklein

    so are we living in the MATRIX?

  • Parabola_Din

    Apparently to show that the universe has a sense of humor, I was listening to The Wall when I stumbled upon this. Imagine my smile at reading “Grab some popcorn, turn on some Pink Floyd, and prepare to have your mind blown.”

  • Daniel

    One thing that this implies is that intelligent life as we know it probably exists in pretty much every spiral galaxy at the same point in its evolution to our own, which means we probably will never encounter it, at least within our own space and time, given the enormous distances between galaxies. Perhaps someday, if our descendants are still alive when Andromeda finally collides with the Milky Way, we might finally have some close encounters of a similar kind; or maybe by some as yet TBD technology, our descendants encounter similar worlds in our own galaxy that have also reached a compatible phase of evolution.

    • OldFlonk

      It won’t make any difference when we form “Milkomeda”. Rember that the stars (and in most cases, stellar systems) won’t collide. There’s far more space between stars than we realize. The integration of the two galaxies will have significant gravitational effects, but it won’t necessarily bring stars closer together than they would be otherwise.

      • Daniel

        Yes, thanks. I do understand that to be the case, and the same TBD technology required to reach a compatible star system in our own galaxy would most likely be required to reach any acquired from Andromeda.

  • herbdreyer

    How about 1 really small slice of time in three minutes–if you can do 14 billion years in three minutes then take us in close and let’s see the details of what you have conjured ?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Jonathan Saunders

    I am perplexed with simplicity we often place on the evolution of our existence. It is a nice display but far from the reality. Conjuring interest in future exploration is not a simple task by any means. Our attention span is shorting with further advancements in technology but we should never substitute facts with synthetic reality. At next pass please consider including some planets and space craft. Keep it simple though. Nice job guys!

  • Don’t Even Try It!

    What if we are only a simulation inside someone else’s box? Would we ever really know?

  • NavyBlue1962

    Wow! I didn’t even know they had video cameras that long ago.

  • Edward Oshel

    So what are those explosions? At first I thought supernovae but then realized that they span clusters of galaxies and are millions of light years across?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Dave Bash

    I wonder how ( or if) they validated this model. Any thoughts?


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