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Unlocking the secrets of the Universe


An international team of scientists has performed the most detailed ever study of the evolution of the Universe.

They have traced the evolution of the cosmos from the ’Big Bang’ 13.7 billion years ago to the present day — in a project similar in complexity to tracking the movement of every single person on Earth.

But instead of tracking people, the team — which includes University of Nottingham scientists — has modelled the paths of 10 billion particles of elusive ’dark matter’. The team simulated how these particles moved outwards from the ’Big Bang’, the cosmic explosion that is thought to be the origin of the Universe.

The work, featured this week in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, could help to further our understanding of how the Universe developed and of our own place in it.

The Nottingham researchers are part of an international team working on the ’Millennium Simulation’, the largest and most realistic simulation ever of the formation of structure in the Universe.

Dr Frazer Pearce, of the School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “It’s a bit like knowing the exact position of every single human being on the face of the Earth, and then tracking how they move about over a whole lifetime.

“Rather than tracking six billion people, we’re simulating how ten billion particles have moved, since the Big Bang, through the whole lifetime of the Universe.”

It will be ten times more detailed than any previous study of its type, he added.

The next stage of this research programme, the Millennium Gas Project, will be led by researchers at The University of Nottingham. The calculation will be carried out on the University’s new high performance computer (HPC) facility, which is coincidentally also being officially launched this week (separate press release available).

The Nature paper, “Simulations of the formation, evolution and clustering of galaxies and quasars”, is published in the June 2 edition of Nature. It is the product of a group called the Virgo Consortium, of which The University of Nottingham is a part.

Collaborating authors from the consortium include Dr Volker Springel at the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany, physicists at the Universities of Durham, Edinburgh and Sussex, and colleagues at universities in Japan, the USA and Canada.

Professor Richard Wade, chief executive of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), the science agency that funds UK involvement in the project, said: "These simulations produce staggering images and represent a significant milestone in our understanding of how the early Universe took shape.

“The Millennium Simulation is a brilliant example of the interaction between theory and experiment in astronomy as the latest observations of astronomical objects can be used to test the predictions of theoretical models of the Universe’s history.”

| alfa
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