Astronomers have finally collected the results from IllustrisTNG, the most extensive simulation of the universe to date. Researchers can compare these results to observations to improve the current theoretical framework, known as the standard cosmological model.
The first results are published in three papers in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (here, here, and here). The papers look at how supermassive black holes influence the distribution of dark matter in the universe, the formation of heavy elements, and the origin of magnetic fields.
The simulation tracks the formation and evolution of millions of galaxies in a cubic region of the universe with a side of nearly 1 billion light-years. It’s the follow-up to the Illustris simulation, the "TNG" stands for "The Next Generation". Researchers used over 24,000 processors for more than two months to create this virtual universe.
“Thanks to the computing time obtained from the German Gauss Centre for Supercomputing, we have been able to redefine the state of the art in this field,” principal investigator Professor Volker Springel of Heidelberg University, Germany, said in a statement. “The new simulations produced more than 500 terabytes of simulation data. Analyzing this huge mountain of data will keep us busy for years to come, and it promises many exciting new insights into different astrophysical processes.”
This simulation can provide us with insights into supermassive black holes and the influences they have. They are found at the center of almost every galaxy and when they begin feeding, they can produce tremendous relativistic jets that push material into intergalactic space.
“It is particularly fascinating that we can accurately predict the influence of supermassive black holes on the distribution of matter out to large scales,” explained Springel. “This is crucial for reliably interpreting forthcoming cosmological measurements.”
Supermassive black holes are also key to the results of the second paper, which deals with the fact that most galaxies fall into either the “young and blue” category or the “red and dead” category.
“The only physical entity capable of extinguishing the star formation in our large elliptical galaxies are the supermassive black holes at their centers,” lead author Dr Dylan Nelson added. “The ultrafast outflows of these gravity traps reach velocities up to 10 percent of the speed of light and affect giant stellar systems that are billions of times larger than the comparably small black hole itself.”
Everything that has been produced so far, along with everything that will be extracted from the simulation over the next few years, can help astronomers compare their observations to the theory.
“Our predictions can now be systematically checked by observers,” Dr Annalisa Pillepich, who led the second study, stated.