Hubble eXtreme Deep Field observations reproduced in simulation

Image and text credits: Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/The Illustris Collaboration

Caption: Hubble eXtreme Deep Field observations (2.8 arcmin on a side) in B, Z, H bands convolved with Gaussian point-spread functions of sigma = 0.04, 0.08, and 0.16 arcsec, respectively. Divided across the middle: real observation (top) and mock observation from Illustris (bottom).

These results are being reported in the May 8th issue of the journal Nature: previous attempts to simulate the universe were hampered by lack of computing power and the complexities of the underlying physics. As a result those programs either were limited in resolution, or forced to focus on a small portion of the universe. Earlier simulations also had trouble modeling complex feedback from star formation, supernova explosions, and supermassive black holes. Illustris employs a sophisticated computer program to recreate the evolution of the universe in high fidelity. It includes both normal matter and dark matter using 12 billion 3-D “pixels,” or resolution elements. The team dedicated five years to developing the Illustris program. The actual calculations took 3 months of “run time,” using a total of 8,000 CPUs running in parallel. If they had used an average desktop computer, the calculations would have taken more than 2,000 years to complete. The computer simulation began a mere 12 million years after the Big Bang. When it reached the present day, astronomers counted more than 41,000 galaxies in the cube of simulated space. Importantly, Illustris yielded a realistic mix of spiral galaxies like the Milky Way and football-shaped elliptical galaxies. It also recreated large-scale structures like galaxy clusters and the bubbles and voids of the cosmic web. On the small scale, it accurately recreated the chemistries of individual galaxies.

There is a great deal more to see on the Illustris Project website.


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