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Supercomputers Allow First Detailed Milky Way Simulation

After months of number crunching on powerful supercomputers, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Zurich have come up with a beautiful computer simulation of the physics involved in the formation of the Milky Way.

While it may at first bring to mind images you've seen on your iTunes Visualizer - and it is set to futuristic electronic music - the project took the group nearly eight months to create at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre in Manno, Switzerland. The group claims it would have taken 570 years to build the simulation on a personal computer.

The simulation, called "Eris," solves a long-standing problem that led some to question the prevailing cosmological model of our universe.

"Previous efforts to form a massive disk galaxy like the Milky Way had failed, because the simulated galaxies ended up with huge central bulges compared to the size of the disk," Javiera Guedes, who authored the study, said in a news release.

The Eris galaxy is a large spiral galaxy with a central "bar" of bright stars and other structural properties consistent with galaxies like our own: the Milky Way. The brightness profile, bulge-to-disk ratio, and stellar content of Eris are also all within the range of observations of the Milky Way.

For 20 years, astronomers have tried to come up with a simulated galaxy to replicate the look of the Milky Way and other spiral galaxies. Guedes and her colleagues were more successful primarily because of the equipment they had at their disposal: 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.

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TAGGED: SPACE


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