Astronomers have developed the first realistic virtual universe in a computer simulation that recreates 13 billion years of cosmic evolution.

In the past, attempts to simulate the evolution of our universe were met with technological hurdles that resulted in either low-resolution or small-scale simulations. But a new simulation named “Illustris” has done the unprecedented and given us the first detailed view of a realistic, virtual universe that closely parallels our own.

Illustris simulates an evolving universe within a cube that measures 350 million light-years on a side, beginning 12 million years after the Big Bang and stretching on for 13 billion years. Astronomers counted more than 41,000 galaxies in cube at present day, with a realistic mix of spiral and elliptical galaxies, galaxy clusters, and accurate depictions of the chemistries of individual galaxies.

It took five years to develop the Illustris program, and the simulation took three months to render, using 8,000 CPUs running in parallel. Had the team used an average desktop PC, the calculations would have taken more than 2,000 years to complete.

Illustris was a joint effort between researchers at several institutions, including the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany. The results are being reported in the May 8th issue of the journal Nature.

High-definition video and images of the simulation can be found on the official website. Simulated or not, the cosmos is filled with beauty.

Source: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

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