Is the Matrix next? A team of scientists at MIT has created a computer simulation of the universe that is being called the most accurate ever.
The computer model simulation, developed by a team lead by Mark Vogelsberger, begins shortly after the creation of the universe and continues until the current age. A description of the simulation was published Wednesday in the journal Nature, and the creation is being acclaimed because it is the best depiction yet of the scale of the whole universe as well as in the details from individual galaxies.
The team employed Illustris simulation software, and began the journey at a relatively young age for the universe -- a mere 12 million years after the Big Bang. It then had to also cover an additional 13 billion years to bring it to the present.
350 Million Light-Years
To go with that enormous time range is the unimaginable range of space, about 350 million light-years across. One light-year is about 10 million million kilometers. This kind of enormous time and space range has never been captured before in a single simulation. The smallest details shown are about 1,000 light-years across, which the scientists expect to get down to several light-years across -- but it could take a decade more of refining the simulation.
And the simulation also tackles the range of elements, from the simplest -- hydrogen and helium in the early years -- to heavier and more numerous elements later. There are also more than 40,000 different types of galaxies, such as elliptical and disk galaxies.
One scientist not on the team, University of Maryland astronomer Michael Boylan-Kolchin, noted in a news article in Nature that the realism in the images of the galaxies was previously "possible only for simulation of individual galaxies."
The team members said that the simulated images of galaxies resembled actual images of those galaxies, as depicted by the Hubble Space Telescope. They pointed to similarities in density of objects, colors, sizes and morphologies. But there are some differences, of course, and the scientists will be tweaking their theories to refine the simulation further.
Six Months of Calculations
For instance, while the galaxies' proportions seem more or less correct, the stars in galaxies that are much smaller than our Milky Way appear in the simulation to be older than they should be. The team indicated this is because the simulation created those galaxies too soon in the life of the universe.
The simulation required six months of supercomputer calculations, which the scientists estimated would have taken a regular desktop computer about 2,000 years to generate. The imagery was derived from laws of physics and theories of how the universe evolved, and one of the purposes is to test how well some of those theories seemed to have worked in creating structures and images that resemble the current universe.
One of the many problems in recreating this universe is the depiction of dark matter and dark energy, because their actual makeup is still not determined. The simulation model simulates their behavior, with dark matter helping matter in the young universe to assemble, and dark energy helping to propel the universe's expansion.