Supercomputer’s Virtual Universes Further Understanding

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Findings From a Supercomputer’s Virtual Universes Clarify the Vision of Our Own Universe.

We’ve all heard of “The Big Bang Theory.” (No, Steve! I’m not talking about Leonard, Sheldon, and Penny!) While it’s adapted and changed a lot since its inception, and there are certainly gaps in it, it’s still the best model we have for explaining the evolution of the cosmos. The problem is, most of the galaxies in our observable universe are super old already—even the youngest ones are billions of years old. This makes learning how they evolved a little tricky. I’m no astrophysicist, but I can tell you it has a lot to do with inference based on known properties of spacetime, light, chemistry, and spectrography. Now a supercomputer’s virtual universes might help us to understand some of those lingering questions.

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Researchers at the University of Arizona used a supercomputer to help figure things out. I’m not gonna lie, the headline alone makes me think of Douglas Adams’ “Deep Thought” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but that’s neither here nor there. However, that’s the thing about science. If you want to get solid results, you need a huge sample size.

Life, The Universe, and Everything:

To Figure Out Evolution, Repetition Is Key

Biologists have used similar techniques to help understand the evolution of life more completely. However, even the evolution of the most complex ecosystem on Earth is magnitudes simpler than the complexity of the evolution of the cosmos. 

Super-fast computer simulations speed up the process of evolution into digestible bits of data in hours, not eons. That means we can run those simulations over and over again, which is a cornerstone of the scientific method. In other words, if we run a simulation with the same variables over and over again and keep getting the same results, we can be sure of those results form conclusions built around them. It took the team from AU about three weeks to run eight million simulations.

Simulations-In-Miniature

Even Ocelote isn’t powerful enough to envelop the entire cosmos in each of its simulations. Instead, each of the millions it has done has had a different set of catalysts and 12 million galaxies. Each simulation also runs from about 400 million years after the Big Bang to present day.  By running these simulations over and over again, we can see which phenomena pop up in patterns.

Those patterns have already helped astrophysicists to understand more about how long galaxies produce stars. They’ve also posited that dark matter may not have been such a hindrance as was previously thought during the early stages of the universe’s development. 

While these simulations and others like them will never take the place of actual observation, the brevity of human life precludes the actual observation of the evolutionary process. Sometimes, the best tools we have for forming hypotheses which will eventually become theories is extrapolation, inference, and logic. Here’s hoping for a lot more discovery from this supercomputer’s virtual universes, and others like them.


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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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