Astronomers have run the largest computer simulations ever made, from the Big Bang to the present day, to investigate how the universe evolved.
The project, called Flamingo, calculated the evolution of all the components of the universe – ordinary matter, dark matter and dark energy – according to the laws of physics.
As the simulations progress, virtual galaxies and galaxy clusters are shown in detail.
Facilities such as the European Space Agency's (ESA) recently launched Euclid Space Telescope and NASA's James Webb Space Telescope collect data on galaxies, quasars and stars.
The researchers hope the simulations will allow them to compare the virtual universe with observations of the real thing captured by new high-powered telescopes.
This could help scientists understand whether the standard model of cosmology – used to explain the evolution of the universe – is a good description of reality.
Flamingo research collaborator Professor Carlos Frenk, Ogden Professor of Fundamental Physics at Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology, said: “Cosmology is at a crossroads.
“We have amazing new data from powerful telescopes, some of which, at first glance, do not conform to our theoretical expectations.
“Either the standard model of cosmology is flawed or there are subtle biases in the observational data.
“Highly accurate simulations of the universe should be able to tell us the answer.”
Previous simulations, which have been compared to observations of the universe, focused on cold dark matter – believed to be a key component of the universe's structure.
However, astronomers now say that the effect of ordinary matter, which makes up only 16% of all matter in the universe, and neutrinos, tiny particles that rarely interact with normal matter, must also be taken into account when trying to understand the universe. development.
Lead researcher Professor Joop Schaye of Leiden University said: “Although dark matter dominates gravity, the contribution of ordinary matter can no longer be neglected, as this contribution could be similar to the discrepancies between models and observations'.
The researchers ran simulations on a powerful supercomputer in Durham for the past two years.
The simulations took more than 50 million processor hours on the Cosmology Machine (COSMA 8) supercomputer, hosted by Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology, on behalf of the UK's DiRAC High Performance Computing Facility.
To make the simulations possible, the researchers developed a new code, called SWIFT, which distributes the computational work across thousands of central processing units (CPUs, sometimes as many as 65,000).
Flamingo is a Virgo Consortium project for cosmological supercomputer simulations. The acronym stands for All-Sky Mapping Full-Hydro Large-Scale Structure Simulations for the Interpretation of Next-Generation Observations.
Funding for the project came from the European Research Council, the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research and the Swiss National Science Foundation.
The research is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.