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Supercomputers animate the evolution of the universe

"Watching the video is like flying through the universe way faster than the speed of light and watching galaxies as they are assembling," said Paul Torrey.
By Brooks Hays   |   May 7, 2014 at 4:17 PM   |   Comments

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 7 (UPI) -- New models projected by supercomputers offer an animated look at how the universe's earliest galaxies formed and evolved.

The computer model is called the Illustris simulation, and it allows viewers to watch the creation of the universe unfold before their eyes in astounding detail and unmatched accuracy.

"Watching the video is like flying through the universe way faster than the speed of light and watching galaxies as they are assembling," Paul Torrey -- an astronomy graduate student at Harvard and one of several researchers from Harvard and MIT who helped develop the model -- told the Los Angeles Times.

The model accounts for all the factors that govern behavior of the cosmos: the laws of physics, the temperature properties of gases, the explosive forces of supernovae, the influence of supermassive black holes and more.

The development of the new model is detailed in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

Most impressively, the model accounts for the physical and chemical properties of dark matter -- the universe's invisible masses, the behaviors of which can only be inferred from the gravitational effects on more visible surroundings.

"You can make stars and galaxies that look like the real thing, but it is the dark matter that is calling the shots," Professor Carlos Frenk of Durham University, in the United Kingdom, told the BBC. Much of the new model was based on theories developed by Professor Frenk.

Paul Torey explains that the new video of cosmic evolution begins some 12 million years after the Big Bang, as the early universe featured little visible mass or structure. In other words, there wasn't much to see in those first 12 million years.

"Our work here has only just begun," added Torrey. "Now that we have this model, our job is to understand it in as much detail as possible."

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