Astronomers have performed the biggest-ever computer simulations to investigate how the universe evolved from the Big Bang.
Project Flamingo calculated how ordinary matter, dark matter and dark energy evolved according to the laws of physics.
Virtual galaxies and clusters of galaxies emerge in detail as the simulations progress.
Researchers hope they can compare the virtual universe with images of the real thing from NASA’s James Webb telescope and the European Space Agency’s Euclid telescope.
A £10m supercomputer at Durham University spent two years running the simulations, which took more than 50 million processor hours.
The COSMA 8 machine has the power of 17,000 home PCs and experts had to develop a new code to distribute the massive workload over thousands of computer processors.
Physics professor Carlos Frenk, from Durham University, said: “Cosmology is at a crossroads. We have amazing new data from powerful telescopes some of which do not, at first sight, conform to our theoretical expectations.
“Either the standard model of cosmology is flawed or there are subtle biases in the observational data.
“Our super precise simulations of the universe should be able to tell us the answer.”
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Previous simulations have concentrated on cold dark matter, but astronomers now believe ordinary matter and neutrinos – tiny particles that rarely interact with normal matter – need to be considered when understanding the universe’s evolution.
“Although the dark matter dominates gravity, the contribution of ordinary matter can no longer be neglected since that contribution could be similar to the deviations between the models and the observations,” said principal investigator Professor Joop Schaye, of Leiden University in the Netherlands.
The study is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.