Originally published September 7 2012
Supercomputer simulation models the entire known universe
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) The growth in power and computing capacity is on auto-pilot in this, the second decade of the 21st century, as scientists can now construct entire universes like those which surround our own with the help of supercomputers.
"Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a spiral galaxy with a broad disk and outstretched arms, as are many in our cosmic neighborhood, such as Andromeda, the Pinwheel and the Whirlpool galaxies," reported Discovery News. While spiral galaxies are common, the website said, past computing models that sought to accurately recreate the birth and evolution of the universe over the course of billions of years had difficulty doing so. Such models tended to generate blobby galaxies lumped into balls instead.
But now, supercomputers can recreate the kind of galaxies astronomers and scientists can see in our own near-space neighborhood, beginning with the afterglow of the Big Bang and moving forward in time.
The Odyssey supercomputer at Harvard University has allowed simulations which compressed some 14 billion years into only a few months' time.
New software, new computing capabilities, new model
"We've created the full variety of galaxies we see in the local universe," said study author Mark Vogelsberger, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Discovery News reported, whose team detailed their findings in the Aug. 21 issue of the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The supercomputer utilizes new software called Arepo, which was created by Volker Springel and the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany. Earlier simulations divided space into a fixed grid of cubes, each one simulating the behavior of substances within that particular space.
The software uses a grid capable of reshaping itself, the report said, then filling itself with tetrahedrons of different sizes and shape (Discovery News notes that "a tetrahedron is a four-sided object resembling a pyramid"). The more substance a region has - such as gasses, stars, dark energy or dark matter - the more tetrahedra the software gives that region, enabling it to replicate the flow and behavior of the substances more correctly.
"We took all the advantages of previous codes and removed the disadvantages," said Springel.
"I would like to add that the simulations we've run with our software represent a universe or slice of the universe that has many properties similar to our own, but it's not necessarily the same universe," astrophysicist Paul Torrey at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told Space.com. "While you may find many galaxies like the Milky Way in it, you won't find the Milky Way itself."
But this is just the beginning, researchers say. In the future, they plan to simulate much bigger volumes of the universe at resolutions never before attempted, to create the largest and most realistic universe model yet.
"That way, we hope to gain more insights on galactic formation," said Torrey.
Earlier modeling mapped out all that astronomers can see
In April, French scientists announced they performed the first-ever computer model simulation of the structuring of the entire observable universe, from the point of the so-called Big Bang to present day.
The French simulation was the first of three runs, which are part of a project called Deus: Full universal run, which has "made it possible to to follow the evolution of 550 billion particles," Science Daily reported.
"This simulation, along with the two additional runs expected by late May 2012, will provide outstanding support for future projects dedicated to the observation and mapping of the universe," the report said. "These simulations will shed light on the nature of dark energy and its effects on cosmic structure formation, and hence on the distribution of dark matter and galaxies in the universe."
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