The universe is massive and constantly expanding, and our comprehension is still very limited. Astrophysicists have been working on a simulation of a smaller cube-shaped universe, the Illustris project, since 2013, in an effort to further our understanding of how it all works, and have now taken it to the next level.
Illustris: The Next Generation (IllustrisTNG) (no relation to Stargate) has been designed to explore the physics behind how black holes influence the distribution of dark matter; how heavy elements are produced and distributed; and where magnetic fields originate.
Scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Astronomy (MPIA, Heidelberg) and Astrophysics (MPA, Garching), Harvard University, MIT and the Flatiron Institute's Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA) are involved in the work.
IllustrisTNG "is the most advanced universe simulation of its kind," Shy Genel - an associate research scientist at CCA, who was involved in the simulation's development, said. "When we observe galaxies using a telescope, we can only measure certain quantities. With the simulation, we can track all the properties for all these galaxies. And not just how the galaxy looks now, but its entire formation history."
In the new simulation, scientists can explore a model universe with almost 1 billion light years per side, up from a much smaller 350 million light years four years ago. It does not model the real universe, but one that is very close. ‘For the first time, hydrodynamic simulations [can] directly compute the detailed clustering pattern of galaxies in space', Illustris said in a statement.
The researchers needed an extremely powerful computer for such a complex simulation. They utilised the Hazel Hen machine at the HPCC Stuttgart, in Germany. For just one of the two main simulation runs they used more than 24,000 processes over the course of two months, producing more than 500 TB of simulation data.
"Analysing this huge mountain of data will keep us busy for years to come, and it promises many exciting new insights into different astrophysical processes," said principal investigator Volker Springel, of the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies.
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