Ever wanted to see what our universe looked like moments after the Big Bang? Good luck — it would take your desktop computer more than 2000 years to complete. Luckily, researchers just published findings from the first ultra-realistic simulation of our universe's growth. And it covers 13 billion years.
Led by Mark Vogelsberger at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the researchers created a system called Illustris that simulates a cube-shaped chunk of the universe 350 million light-years long on each side. As the simulation progresses, it uses 12 billion 3D pixels to show the evolution of both normal and dark matter.
Illustris took five years to develop, and required 8000 CPUs running three months' worth of calculations to fully finalise. "Until now, no single simulation was able to reproduce the universe on both large and small scales simultaneously," Vogelsberger said.
Telescopes like Hubble can show us what far-off galaxies looked like millions or billions of years ago, because those galaxies are millions or billions of light-years away. But Illustris's big benefit is that it lets researchers see what those galaxies might have looked like at various points in time."Illustris is like a time machine. We can go forward and backward in time. We can pause the simulation and zoom into a single galaxy or galaxy cluster to see what's really going on," says co-author Shy Genel.