A new supercomputer simulation drives the evolution of the universe

The infant universe transforms from a featureless landscape into an intricate web in a new supercomputer simulation of the formative years of the cosmos.

An animation of the simulation shows our universe changing from a smooth, cold cloud of gas to the lumpy scattering of galaxies and stars we see today. It is the most complete, the most detailed and the most precise reproduction of the evolution of the universe yet produced, researchers report in the November Royal Astronomical Society Monthly Notices.

This virtual glimpse into the cosmos’ past is the result of CoDaIII, the third iteration of the Cosmic Dawn project, which traces the history of the universe, beginning with the “Cosmic Dark Age” about 10 million years after the Big Bang. By then, hot gas produced at the very beginning of time, about 13.8 billion years ago, had cooled into a featureless, lightless cloud, says astronomer Paul Shapiro of the University of Texas at Austin.

The universe was a cold, dark place 10 million years after the Big Bang. Hydrogen gas began to clump together 100 million years later, forming dense (white) regions that gave rise to the first stars and galaxies, as shown in this animation of a new simulation of the early universe . Light radiating from stars (in blue) heated gas around galaxies as matter collected in a web-like arrangement. Pink bursts are high temperature regions that appeared when certain stars exploded. The galaxies and stars we see today lie along filaments resulting from the complicated interplay between matter and starlight during the evolution of the universe.

About 100 million years later, tiny ripples in the gas left behind by the Big Bang caused gas clumping (SN: 02/19/15). This led to long threadlike strands that formed a web of matter where galaxies and stars were born.

As radiation from early galaxies illuminated the universe, it ripped electrons from atoms in the once cold gas clouds during a period called the reionization epochwhich continued until about 700 million years after the Big Bang (SN: 06/02/17).

CoDaIII is the first simulation to fully account for the complicated interplay between radiation and the flow of matter in the universe, Shapiro says. It covers time from the Cosmic Dark Ages through the next billion years as the distribution of matter in the modern universe was formed.

The animation from the simulation, Shapiro says, graphically shows how the structure of the early universe is “imprinted on today’s galaxies, which remember their youth, their birth or their ancestors from the time of reionization”.

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