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Computer simulation showing the threads and stars of the Universe

We’re part of an international team of astrophysicists who’ve simulated galaxy formation and large-scale cosmic structure with unprecedented detail to investigate how the Universe formed.

The MillenniumTNG supercomputer simulations will allow scientists to carry out precision tests of the standard cosmological model – used by physicists to explain Universe formation following the Big Bang.

The researchers, including experts in our Department of Physics/Institute for Computational Cosmology, say their simulations are essential for interpreting observational studies of space being done by the James Webb Space Telescope and the Euclid satellite.

Dark energy and dark matter

This means scientists will be able to investigate the nature of dark energy and dark matter by comparing the actual Universe to virtual universes created in a supercomputer.

Dark energy is thought to be behind the accelerating expansion of the Universe, while dark matter is the structural backbone — not visible through telescopes — upon which galaxies eventually form.

Both make up the majority of the Universe’s total content (with the remaining five per cent being stars, planets and galaxies) but scientists do not know what they are made of.

Powerful supercomputers

Two extremely powerful supercomputers were used to carry out the MillenniumTNG simulations – COSMA 8, hosted by Durham, and SuperMUC-NG machine at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Germany.

MillenniumTNG is tracking the formation of about one hundred million galaxies in a region of the Universe around 2,400 million light-years across.

Using COSMA 8, the team also computed an even bigger volume of the Universe nearly ten billion light-years across - filled with more than a trillion particles to represent dark matter and more than ten billion particles to track massive neutrinos.

Neutrino mass

Neutrinos rarely interact with normal matter and previous simulations had usually omitted them for simplicity.

However, cosmological surveys such as Euclid and the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) survey will be precise enough to detect the percent-level effects of neutrinos.

This raises the prospect of measuring neutrino mass, a profound open question in particle physics.

Find out more

Main banner image shows projections of gas (top left), dark matter (top right), and stellar light (bottom centre) from the MillenniumTNG simulation at (sections left to right) 100, ten and one megaparsec. Credit: MPA.