Astrophysicists simulate 14 billion years of cosmic evolution in high resolution


This computer animation, created using new software called Arepo, simulates 9 billion years of cosmic history. Arepo can accurately follow the birth and evolution of thousands of galaxies over billions of years. Arepo generates the full variety of galaxies seen locally, including majestic spirals like the Milky Way and Andromeda.

Credit: CfA/UCSD/HITS/M. Vogelsberger (CfA) & V. Springel (HITS)

Direct link to YouTube

Astrophysicists have created the most realistic computer simulation of the universe’s evolution to date, tracking activity from the Big Bang to now — a time span of around 14 billion years — in high resolution.

Created by a team at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (CfA) in collaboration with researchers at the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS), the Arepo software provides detailed imagery of different galaxies in the local universe using a technique known as “moving mesh”.

Unlike previous model simulators, such as the Gadget code, Arepo’s hydrodynamic model replicates the gaseous formations following the Big Bang by using a virtual, flexible grid that has the capacity to move to match the motions of the gas, stars, dark matter and dark energy that make up space — it’s like a virtual model of the cosmic web, able to bend and flex to support the matter and celestial bodies that make up the universe. Old simulators instead used a more regimented, fixed, cubic grid.

Written By: Liat Clark
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  1. Does this process generate the universe as it is now, or just a similar universe?  What provides the asymmetry/initial conditions? random numbers?

  2. “…actually look like spiral galaxies.”  To me, the simulation resembles eggs poaching in swirling hot water. 

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch…APOD has a recently released video from SDSS results. To paraphrase -“too many notes!”- so many galaxies! My mind spins, but in a good way!

  3. As an atheist and naturalist, I enjoy stuff like this. But these simulations don’t really prove anything.

  4. Nah. It’s all nonsense. The universe was created by an invisible being with a big beard 6,000 years ago.

  5.  Squidward, they aren’t supposed to prove that was exactly how it happened. They prove that it COULD have happened that way. No scientific hypothesis claims more.

  6. roedygreen:  Yes.  Assuming you don’t mean ‘exactly’ the local universe around us which is a standard with no value.  This simulation evidently reproduces galaxy formation more accurately than previous simulations.

    I have not read the paper yet but I’ll wager they have used for initial conditions the percentages of normal matter, dark matter, dark energy, scalar spectral index (measure of lumpiness), matter perturbation amplitude (average size of lumps) and the Hubble parameter (expansion rate of the universe) from WMAP (the most accurate measures of these parameters we have).

    Usefulness:  Using observed parameters to run a simulation that ends up accurately producing the universe we see now does two things.  1) It suggests that our measurements of cosmological parameters are accurate and 2) it suggests that our equations that describe nature are accurate.

  7. This video is the only time the words “creation,” and “science,” should be allowed in the same sentence.

  8. Gorgeous simulation.  But sad, if you go over to watch it on YouTube, to see the gutter-level comments it attracted.

  9. To see those gigapan simulations, you need a plug-in viewer that only works in Safari and Chrome.

    The slider on the left controls magnification.

  10. roedygreen: Yes, sorry, either Chrome or Safari is required for the GigaPan Time Machine viewer, but otherwise no plugins are required (the video is H264, which both Safari and Chrome support natively).

    The viewer at requires Flash.  Here’s a link to a version that works with iOS:

  11. No doubt they are working on that animation too. Just a few more prayers needed to refine the algorithm.

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