Illustris: The most amazing (and biggest) computer simulation of the universe so far

The Illustris Project shows what you, too, could do with a state-of-the-art desktop machine and a spare 2,000 years.

Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Credit: NASA and STScI

This simulation is astounding! The Illustris Project is:

... a large cosmological simulation of galaxy formation, completed in late 2013, using a state of the art numerical code and a comprehensive physical model. Building on several years of effort by members of the collaboration, the Illustris simulation represents an unprecedented combination of high resolution, total volume, and physical fidelity …  

To say this project was ambitious would be an understatement:

The calculation tracks the expansion of the universe, the gravitational pull of matter onto itself, the motion of cosmic gas, as well as the formation of stars and black holes. These physical components and processes are all modeled starting from initial conditions resembling the very young universe 300,000 years after the Big Bang and until the present day, spanning over 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution. The simulated volume contains tens of thousands of galaxies captured in high-detail, covering a wide range of masses, rates of star formation, shapes, sizes, and with properties that agree well with the galaxy population observed in the real universe.

How much computing muscle did this take?

The Illustris simulations were run on supercomputers in France, Germany, and the US. The largest was run on 8,192 compute cores, and took 19 million CPU hours (the equivalent of one computer CPU running for 19 million hours, or about 2,000 years).

So, now you’ve read the brochure, check out the movie …

Check out the project’s media page for stills and more stunning videos.


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