A simulation of the universe with realistic galaxies

December 30, 2014
A close-up of a galaxy that formed in the EAGLE simulation. The first two images are 326 and 32.6 million light years on a side and show the distribution of gas in the large-scale environment. The red and blue colours indicate a high and low gas temperature, respectively. The third image shows the stellar light in a region of 0.2 million light years. Credit: J. Schaye et al. 2015.

An international team of astronomers, based at the Universities of Leiden in the Netherlands and Durham in the UK and, led by professor Joop Schaye (Leiden University), developed a simulation of the universe in which realistic galaxies are created; their mass, size and age are similar to those of observed galaxies. Their similarity is caused by the simulation of strong galactic winds - gas winds that are blown from galaxies.

The simulations took several months to run at the "Cosmology Machine" in Durham and at "Curie" in Paris, among the largest computers used for scientific research in the U.K. and France, respectively. Astronomers can now use the results to study the development of from almost 14 billion years ago until now. The results will be published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on 1 January.

For years, have studied the formation of galaxies using computer simulations, but with limited success. The galaxies that formed in previous simulations were often too massive, too small, too old and too spherical.

The galaxies formed in the EAGLE-simulation (Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments) are a much closer reflection of real galaxies thanks to the strong , which blow away the gas supply needed for the formation of stars. EAGLE's galaxies are lighter and younger because fewer stars form and they form later. In the EAGLE simulation these galactic winds - which are powered by stars, supernova explosions and - are stronger than in earlier simulations.

The sizes and shapes of the thousands of galaxies that form in the EAGLE simulation are also similar to those of galaxies that astronomers observe in the Universe. "The universe generated by the computer is just like the real thing. There are galaxies everywhere, with all the shapes, sizes and colours I've seen with the world's largest telescopes. It is incredible. In the EAGLE universe I can even press a button to make time run backwards," says coauthor Richard Bower from Durham University.

Having developed a which produces galaxies with characteristics similar to observed galaxies, astronomers can now study the evolution of individual galaxies in detail. "This is the start of a new era for us," says coauthor Rob Crain from Liverpool John Moores University. "We can now manipulate the conditions of the Universe and study the evolution of galaxies throughout the past 14 billion years."

Explore further: When did galaxies settle down?

More information: "The EAGLE project: simulating the evolution and assembly of galaxies and their environments," Schaye et al. 2015, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 446, 521-554. DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stu2058

The EAGLE team developed the iPhone app Cosmic Universe based on one of the simulations: itunes.apple.com/gb/app/cosmic-universe/id557877106?mt=8

Related Stories

When did galaxies settle down?

October 30, 2014

Astronomers have long sought to understand exactly how the universe evolved from its earliest history to the cosmos we see around us in the present day. In particular, the way that galaxies form and develop is still a matter ...

Hubbles spies the beautiful galaxy IC 335

December 24, 2014

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the galaxy IC 335 in front of a backdrop of distant galaxies. IC 335 is part of a galaxy group containing three other galaxies, and located in the Fornax Galaxy Cluster ...

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources in starburst galaxies

December 22, 2014

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources (ULXs) are point sources in the sky that are so bright in X-rays that each emits more radiation than a million suns emit at all wavelengths. ULXs are rare. Most galaxies (including our own Milky ...

Violent origins of disc galaxies probed by ALMA

September 17, 2014

For decades scientists have believed that galaxy mergers usually result in the formation of elliptical galaxies. Now, for the the first time, researchers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array and a host ...

Recommended for you

Camera on NASA's Lunar Orbiter survived 2014 meteoroid hit

May 26, 2017

On Oct. 13, 2014 something very strange happened to the camera aboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), which normally produces beautifully clear images of the lunar ...

SDO sees partial eclipse in space

May 26, 2017

On May 25, 2017, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, saw a partial solar eclipse in space when it caught the moon passing in front of the sun. The lunar transit lasted almost an hour, between 2:24 and 3:17 p.m. EDT, ...

Jupiter's complex transient auroras

May 25, 2017

Combined observations from three spacecraft show that Jupiter's brightest auroral features recorded to date are powered by both the volcanic moon Io and interaction with the solar wind.

Methanol detected for first time around young star

May 25, 2017

Methanol, a key building block for the complex organic compounds that comprise life, has been detected for the first time in the protoplanetary disk of a young, distant star. This finding could help scientists better understand ...

New Neliota project detects flashes from lunar impacts

May 25, 2017

Using a system developed under an ESA contract, the Greek NELIOTA project has begun to detect flashes of light caused by small pieces of rock striking the moon's surface. NELIOTA is the first system that can determine the ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.5 / 5 (8) Dec 30, 2014
With a powerful enough computer and desire, you can get all results to match all theories.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (11) Dec 30, 2014
With a powerful enough computer and desire, you can get all results to match all theories.
sorry, this is factually inaccurate

you are confusing computational power with programming
the only way that you can match a computational model is to alter the data input or change the programming (so to get "any" result, you must change the data to give you that result or program it specifically to get the results you want regardless of data input)

the actual power of the computer only comes into play with regard to highly complex operations or multiple operations done simultaneously

2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 02, 2015
Good, let's carry it to the limits. Let's say if the computer simulation is REALLY complicated, and it would take 13 billions years to complete its run, the result will be...the real universe.
Now, maybe we can make a short cut, just concentrate on making simulation of evolving life...If we are competent enough to approximate closely the reality, some of the aliens would evolve. We would speed up their evolution more and more as more computing power is available. Then one day, one of them will discover a faster than light drive...right in our computers. We extract the data, and voila, to the stars..
Steve 200mph Cruiz
5 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2015
I thought about that too, I always liked the idea of life playing a role in the universe.
It'll be interesting to see how quantum computers manifest themselves in time.. in the universe out of quantum effects, came atoms, then molecules, then life, then technology, and now quantum effects can play with quantum effects through us.
I wanna see that computer model
I Have Questions
2 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2015
A completely detailed quantum computer simulation of the universe is already taking place and you are living in it.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2015
A completely detailed quantum computer simulation of the universe is already taking place and you are living in it.

Are you it's progenitor? If not, you may still be right, but your certainty is off putting.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 04, 2015
Think about Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question."
5 / 5 (3) Jan 04, 2015
@IHQ: That old saw. That is complete handwaving, so let us look at it:

- As all similar solipsist ideas, it fails to be the simplest theory, that of nature instead of nature described in an orderly system (such as brain+universe or computer+universe). So we have no evidence, and worse can't have any evidence, that could make us accept an extraordinary claim.

- Quantum physics show that there is no curtain to hid a man behind, no hidden variables allowed.

The standard model of particle are complete and show to the resolution of particle collision times and volumes there is no simulation that start to drag its feet.

No known or predicted computer will be able to simulate our fastest particle collisions, even if you somehow make them use particle collisions to do so. You would need to use so high energies that no material and, I would guess no field, could manipulate the collisions within such a small volume.
not rated yet Jan 04, 2015
Interesting article. With increased performance of quantum computers, the simulations will eventually be barely discernible from our own "real" universe. Cool book that talks about this in terms of the anthropic principle, "The Evolution of Simulated Universes".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.