Creating virtual universes with Swinburne's Theoretical Astrophysical Observatory

Mar 28, 2014 by Lea Kivivali
Creating virtual universes with Swinburne's Theoretical Astrophysical Observatory

Swinburne University of Technology has launched a free online astronomy virtual laboratory that will allow scientists to build complex customised views of the Universe, all from the comfort of their own computer.

The Theoretical Astrophysical Observatory (TAO), funded by the Australian Government's $48 million NeCTAR project, draws on the power of Swinburne's gSTAR GPU supercomputer to allow astronomers to simulate the Universe and see how it would look through a wide range of telescopes.

"TAO lets researchers take the data from massive cosmological simulations and map it onto an observer's viewpoint, to test theories of how galaxies and stars form and evolve," TAO project scientist, Swinburne Associate Professor Darren Croton, said.

"TAO makes it easy and efficient for any astronomer to create these virtual universes. It's the culmination of years of effort that is now at the fingertips of scientists around the world.

"Using TAO it might take a few minutes to create a mock catalogue of galaxies, versus months or even years of development previously."

Swinburne worked with eResearch company Intersect Australia Ltd, who designed the web interface with simplicity and user-friendliness in mind.

Associate Professor Croton said that it was important to create a service that could be used by any astronomer regardless of their area of expertise, "because that accelerates the pace of science and boosts the chance of breakthroughs".

As new survey telescopes and instruments become available, they can be modelled within TAO to maintain an up-to-date set of observatories.

"TAO could be especially useful for comparing theoretical predictions against observations coming from next-generation survey telescopes, like the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) in Western Australia, and the SkyMapper Telescope run by the Australian National University (ANU).

"These will cover large chunks of the sky and peer back into the early stages of the Universe and are tasked with answering some of the most fundamental questions know to humankind."

TAO is the theory node of the All Sky Virtual Observatory (ASVO) that is being created by Astronomy Australia Limited, Swinburne University of Technology, the ANU, National Computational Infrastructure, and Intersect Australia Ltd. The ASVO will bring together both theory and observation. This includes a portal to the most detailed digital and sensitive map of the southern sky from the SkyMapper .

Explore further: Exploding stars prove Newton's gravity unchanged over cosmic time

More information: tao.asvo.org.au/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Granny galaxies discovered in the early universe

Mar 11, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of astronomers have discovered the most distant examples of galaxies that were already mature and massive – not just young, star-forming galaxies in the nursery-room ...

Fat or flat: Getting galaxies into shape

Feb 27, 2014

Australian astronomers have discovered what makes some spiral galaxies fat and bulging while others are flat discs—and it's all about how fast they spin.

Recommended for you

How can we find tiny particles in exoplanet atmospheres?

12 hours ago

It may seem like magic, but astronomers have worked out a scheme that will allow them to detect and measure particles ten times smaller than the width of a human hair, even at many light-years distance.  ...

Spitzer telescope witnesses asteroid smashup

Aug 28, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the ...

Witnessing the early growth of a giant

Aug 27, 2014

Astronomers have uncovered for the first time the earliest stages of a massive galaxy forming in the young Universe. The discovery was made possible through combining observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Gerald001
1 / 5 (2) Mar 28, 2014
This area of science is intriguing. With the development of quantum computers we should be able to push the technological limits in more incredible ways, like one day devise computer simulated universes indistinguishable from our own Universe. There is a range of books on the subject (the best one is The Evolution of Simulated Universes). Some company such as D-Wave should be able to put this concept to use within 10-15 years.