Monday, June 27, 2005

Our Universe: The Formative Years

A computer simulation of the growth years of our universe. The simulation explored the model from an age of tem million years to today at 13 billion years old.

A Code for the Heavens
By Michael Schirber
Staff Writer
posted: 27 June 2005

The so-called "Millennium Run" took 28 days of intense computation to generate its 25 terabytes (25 trillion bytes) of data. The simulation – named after the 2000-time-frame in which the idea was conceived – tracks the evolution of matter inside a cube 2 billion light-years on a side.

210 million years

The simulation starts when the universe was 10 million years old and evolves it all the way to the present – 13 billion odd years later. The cube contains roughly 10 billion "particles" – each with the mass of a billion Suns. These colossal blobs of matter interact gravitationally with each other in cyberspace.

4.7 billion years

Gravity will cause some of the particles to merge. In the center of these matter clumps, galaxies can form, but exactly what type of galaxy will depend on the size of the clump and the history of mergers. It would take a clump of a few thousand particles to house a Milky-Way-sized galaxy.

13.6 billion years

"The really cool thing is that in the future, when the data is made public, you can go in and insert your own rules for galaxy formation," Evrard said.

This is seen as a much more efficient use of computer time, as different researchers – and the ambitious amateur cosmologist – can use the dark matter skeleton from the Millennium Run to hang their own galaxy models.

"For this reason, the simulation will have staying power," said Evrard. "Maybe not for a millennium," he joked, "but for a decade, at least, and perhaps longer."

A Code for the Heavens


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