Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2014 May 12

Illustris Simulation of the Universe
Video Credit: Illustris Collaboration, NASA, PRACE, XSEDE, MIT, Harvard CfA;
Music: The Poisoned Princess (Media Right Productions)

Explanation: How did we get here? Click play, sit back, and watch. A new computer simulation of the evolution of the universe -- the largest and most sophisticated yet produced -- provides new insight into how galaxies formed and new perspectives into humanity's place in the universe. The Illustris project -- the largest of its type yet -- exhausted 20 million CPU hours following 12 billion resolution elements spanning a cube 35 million light years on a side as it evolved over 13 billion years. The simulation is the first to track matter into the formation of a wide variety of galaxy types. As the virtual universe evolves, some of the matter expanding with the universe soon gravitationally condenses to form filaments, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies. The above video takes the perspective of a virtual camera circling part of this changing universe, first showing the evolution of dark matter, then hydrogen gas coded by temperature (0:45), then heavy elements such as helium and carbon (1:30), and then back to dark matter (2:07). On the lower left the time since the Big Bang is listed, while on the lower right the type of matter being shown is listed. Explosions (0:50) depict galaxy-center supermassive black holes expelling bubbles of hot gas. Interesting discrepancies between Illustris and the real universe do exist and are being studied, including why the simulation produces an overabundance of old stars.

Tomorrow's picture: nebula hungry

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