Advanced Universe Simulation Shows How Black Holes Impact Space in Surprising Ways

Thursday, 01 February 2018 - 10:44AM
Science News
Black Holes
Thursday, 01 February 2018 - 10:44AM
Advanced Universe Simulation Shows How Black Holes Impact Space in Surprising Ways
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Image credit: Illustris TNG collaboration

Anyone who's played a video game in recent years can tell you that our ability to simulate the real world is getting incredibly advanced.

Taking this technology to its extreme, scientists have now done something even more impressive, by simulating not just our world, but the entire known universe as part of a huge study to reveal the exact process through which stars form.

Our telescope technology allows us to monitor the universe, but it only provides a snapshot of the processes that make the world (and stars, and galaxies) literally go round. Because many celestial events, such as the formation of a star, takes so much time to occur, actually watching these events take place in real time is painfully slow.

The solution, then, is to plug everything we know about the universe into a complex simulation, and then see what happens.

According to Dr. Shy Genel of the Flatiron Institute's Centre for Computational Astrophysics (CCA), this gives us answers to questions that would never be solved by simply staring at the real stars:

Opening quote
"When we observe galaxies using a telescope, we can only measure certain quantities... With the simulation, we can track all the properties for all these galaxies. And not just how the galaxy looks now, but its entire formation history."
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The detailed simulation has already led to the publication of three papers, including one which details the process by which fledgling galaxies inadvertently slow down in growth and ultimately die out.

According to Dr. Dylan Nelson of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics:

Opening quote
"The only physical entity capable of extinguishing the star formation in our large elliptical galaxies are the supermassive black holes at their centres. The ultrafast outflows of these gravity traps reach velocities up to 10% of the speed of light and affect giant stellar systems that are billions of times larger than the comparably small black hole itself."
Closing quote


This can be further supported by recent observations of the gravitational waves of a supermassive black hole at the center of a pocket cluster of the Milky Way, which has been slowly sucking the life out of nearby stars to the point that nothing is visible in the region.

It looks like this simulation will continue to provide interesting answers to complex questions, although it does come with some drawbacks—chiefly, the fact that we can't always be certain that our data on the universe is reflective of everything that's out there.

It's common for scientists to be amazed by celestial anomalies that don't fit with our understanding of the universe, and none of these can be programmed into the simulation, as we literally can't anticipate them. This means that the simulation is inherently flawed, and won't give us the answers to anything we haven't already carefully analyzed.



At the same time, it's odd to think of just how advanced our simulation technology is getting. Neil DeGrasse Tyson believes that we're all probably living in a simulation created by a more advanced race, and considering how quickly our own technology advances, this does make a lot of sense.

All we can hope is that our magnanimous alien programmers don't suddenly get bored and pull the plug, or accidentally pour coffee all over their hard drive. If so, things could end really badly for all of us.

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