MIT’s new simulation reveals crucial insights into the birth of the universe

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Spontaneously generating reality is a messy affair.

For example, our Big Bang unleashed a universe of energy and matter in the blink of an eye, then flung it out in all directions at the speed of light as the temperature in the expanding cosmos reached the 1000 trillion in the first few nanoseconds of time’s existence. degrees Celsius. The next few hundred million years, during which time the universe cooled to the point that particles beyond quarks and photons could exist — when actual atoms such as hydrogen and helium came into being — are known as the Dark Ages, because of the stars that still remain. do not exist. to give light.

Eventually, however, huge clouds of elemental gases compressed themselves enough to ignite, illuminating a previously dark cosmos and driving the process of cosmic reionization. Therefore, the universe is not still just a whole bunch of hydrogen and helium atoms. The actual process of how the light from those new stars interacted with surrounding gas clouds to create the ionized plasma that spawned heavier elements isn’t fully understood, but a team of researchers at MIT just announced that their mathematical model of this turbulent era would largest and the most detailed designed to date.

Named in honor of the Etruscan goddess of the dawn, the Thesan simulation simulates the period of cosmic reionization by looking at the interactions between gases, gravity and radiation in a space spanning 100 million cubic light-years. Researchers can browse a synthetic timeline stretching from 400,000 years to 1 billion years after the Big Bang to see how changing various variables within the model affects the results generated.

“Thesan acts as a bridge to the early universe,” Aaron Smith, NASA Einstein Fellow in the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, told MIT News. “It is intended to be an ideal simulation counterpart for future observation facilities, poised to fundamentally change our understanding of the cosmos.”

It provides more detail at a larger volume than any previous simulation thanks to a new algorithm that tracks the interaction of light with gas and aligns with separate models for galaxy formation and cosmic dust behavior.

“Thesan tracks how the light from these first galaxies interacts with the gas in the first billion years and transforms the universe from neutral to ionized,” said Rahul Kannan of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which collaborated with MIT and the Max Planck Institute. for Astrophysics on this project, MIT told News. “In this way, we automatically follow the reionization process as it unfolds.”

This simulation is powered by the SuperMUC-NG supercomputer in Garching, Germany. The 60,000 cores run the equivalent of 30 million CPU hours in parallel to process the numbers Thesan needs. The team has also seen some surprising results from the experiment.

“Thesan found that light doesn’t travel great distances in the beginning of the universe,” Kannan said. “In fact, this distance is very small and only becomes large at the end of reionization, increasing by a factor of 10 in just a few hundred million years.”

That is, the light at the end of the reionization period has traveled further than researchers previously thought. They’ve also noted that a galaxy’s type and mass can influence the reionization process, although the Thesan team was quick to point out that confirming real-world observations will be needed before that hypothesis is confirmed.

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