This simulation of the Universe is very similar to the structures of the Milky Way.

The universe formed some 13.8 billion years ago; and ever since, we’ve tried our best hoping to understand this cosmic evolution. Scientists rely on two methods: one, they use highly sophisticated technologies and astronomical surveys to figure out how the early universe was like. And at the same time, they create simulations seeking to model the universe. With these two, scientists can safely conclude whether they are on the right track, or way off the course. In a latest research, scientists have used the most detailed supercomputer simulation ever to simulate the universe; and it seems their predictions are on track!

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A Simulation Of The Universe

As the demand for increasingly detailed simulation continues, increasingly sophisticated technologies will be needed to perform increasingly high-end accurate results of the simulation of the universe. This led an international team of researchers led by the University of Helsinki, Finland to conduct the most increasingly accurate computer simulation ever. Dubbed SIBELIUS-DARK, this simulation has been able to accurately predict the evolution of our universe right from the Big Bang to the modern universe.

The international team comprised of researchers from several institutions and universities. This included the Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC) and the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University, the Lorentz Institute for Theoretical Physics at Leiden University, the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, and the Oskar Klein Centre at Stockholm University. The results of the study was published in the monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The SIBELIUS project, that’s the acronym for “Simulations Beyond the Local Universe,” is the first simulation study that has gone even beyond that extent. The simulation coverage was well over 600 million lightyears from Earth, and required several thousands of supercomputers that equally took several weeks to compute. This produced over 130 billion simulated ‘particles’ which was performed using the the DiRAC COSmology MAchine (COSMA) — a distributed computer network operated by the ICC.

Image: University of Helsinki | Images from the SIBELIUS-DARK simulation

Dark Matters Of The Universe

For their study, the team used the well-known theoretical model for understanding the universe, known as the Cold Dark Matter (CDM) model. This model states that 25 percent of the universe is made up of dark matter — an elusive substance that seems to interact with normal matter. The team sought to determine, specifically, if the universe today is consistent with the CDM model. The same model has been used to predict the number and spatial distribution of galaxies in recent years, and has been able to explain the properties of the cosmic background radiation — an evenly distributed microwave energy that was left after the Big Bang.

Previous studies with the model have been able to simulate random patches of the universe quite similar to what we have ever observed before, and even today. These recent simulations used advanced generative algorithms that were programmed to replicate our specific patch of the universe. At this point, the team was able to determine if their simulation was able to reproduce the present-day structures of the Milky Way as observed by astronomers over the decades.

They found that the virtual universe they had created matched some galaxy clusters like VirgoComa, and Perseus, as well as the Local Void, and the Great Wall. And interestingly, their simulation was able to replicate the two well-known galaxies in the observable universe. The virtual doppelgänger of our Milky Way and its neighboring Andromeda.

(Fun fact: Did you know that there are more neural networks and connections in your brain than there are galaxies in the entire universe?)

What Are We Seeing So Far?

Here’s what some of researchers had to say about their observations:

“It is immensely exciting to see the familiar structures that we know exist around us emerge from a computer calculation,” as Carlos Frenk, a professor of fundamental physics at the ICC from the University of Ogden, and co-author of the study, explains.“The simulations simply reveal the consequences of the laws of physics acting on the dark matter and cosmic gas throughout the 13.7 billion years that our universe has been around.”

Image: University of Helsinki | Images from the SIBELIUS-DARK simulation

The team also found that their prediction of our patch of the universe had fewer galaxies due to a large-scale “matter under density,” on average. This implies that, astrophysicists might have some challenge while interpreting galaxies from astronomical surveys. However, this find does not contradict the CDM model in any way.

“The fact that we have been able to reproduce these familiar structures provides impressive support for the standard Cold Dark Matter model and tells us that we are on the right track to understand the evolution of the entire universe,” as Frenk continues.

“This project is truly groundbreaking,” says Dr Matthieu Schaller, another co-author of the study from Leiden University. “These simulations demonstrate that the standard Cold Dark Matter Model can produce all the galaxies we see in our neighborhood. This is a very important test for the model to pass.”

“By simulating our universe, as we see it, we are one step closer to understanding the nature of our cosmos,” says Dr Stuart McAlpine, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki, but previously at Durham. “This project provides an important bridge between decades of theory and astronomical observations.”

Furthermore, the international team hopes to further analyze the simulation to further their understanding of the CDM model in further stringent conditions.

Source: University of Helsinki / ICC / Royal Astronomical Society

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, Mar 07, 2022.


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