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After nine months of number-crunching on a powerful supercomputer, a beautiful spiral galaxy matching our own Milky Way emerged from a computer simulation of the physics involved in galaxy formation and evolution.

Previously, no computer simulations could match the formation and structure close enough to our own Milky Way galaxy. This new simulation, called “Eris”, has now closely replicated such variables as brightness profile, bulge to disk ratio, stellar content, etc. You can see the comparison below.

This comparison shows the Eris simulation (top) and the Milky Way (bottom). Credit: S. Callegari, J. Guedes, and the 2MASS collaboration.

The simulation took 1.4 million processor-hours on NASA’s state-of-the-art Pleiades supercomputer, plus additional supporting simulations on supercomputers at UCSC and the Swiss National Supercomputing Center, to produce the simulation of our galaxy.

The simulation follows the interactions of more than 60 million particles of dark matter and gas. A lot of physics goes into the code–gravity and hydrodynamics, star formation and supernova explosions–and this is the highest resolution cosmological simulation ever done this way,

said J. Guedes, who is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich).

The results from the simulation support the prevailing “cold dark matter” theory, in which the evolution of structure in the universe is driven by the gravitational interactions of dark matter (“dark” because it can’t be seen, and “cold” because the particles are moving slowly).

The group claims it would have taken 570 years to build the simulation on a personal computer.


Astrophysicists report first simulation to create a Milky Way-like galaxy