If you thought it was challenging to assemble a model of our solar system back in middle school, just imagine assembling a model that included billions of them. That’s effectively what Mark Vogelsberger and his team at MIT have accomplished with Illustris, a digital simulation of our universe from 12 million years after the big bang until present day — a time span of 13 billion years.
What’s most amazing about this model is its ability to present the universe at both its widest imaginable scope (which at 350 million light-years across is still nearly impossible to imagine) as well reveal the relatively small structures of individual galaxies. Take a look:
“One of the main reasons why we did the simulation is because we learned a lot about the physics over the last years, and we think we have a very good understanding of the composition of the universe,” Vogelsberger told Space.com. Vogelsberger is the lead author of a study on the simulation appearing in the journal Nature on May 7th. “We think there is dark matter. We think there is dark energy and we think that there are ordinary atoms. We also think we have a pretty good understanding of the initial conditions of the universe because we can measure those with satellites,” added Vogelsberger.
The model doesn’t just contain more humanly conceivable things like galaxies and galaxy clusters, but also the mystery-laden substances that are dark matter and dark energy, which make up the majority of the universe.
The simulation requires an immense amount of computing power to run. Running it on the best desktop computer in existence would take 2,000 years. When the researchers ran it over 8,000 processors, it still took several months.
Despite the sheer magnitude of this accomplishment, the model universe does have a few lingering anomalies. For example, the low mass galaxies form earlier in this model than they did in our actual universe. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t immediately catch that deviation while watching the video.
Images: Illustris Collaboration