Release Images

Release No.: 2014-10
For Release: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 - 1:00pm

Astronomers Create First Realistic Virtual Universe

This video from the Illustris project simulates 13 billion years of the universe in just two minutes. It shows a close-up view on a volume of space 30 million light-years on a side, around which the "camera" rotates to show all sides. The total simulation volume is 1,000 times larger than this region. The simulation features several layers including dark matter, gas temperature, and the abundance of heavy elements. Although all layers are present throughout the simulation, the video shows only one layer at a time. The video begins by showing the density of dark matter (blue) – the mysterious stuff that forms the backbone of the cosmic web, holding galaxies and galaxy clusters together. Next the video shifts to a view of gas temperature, with red and white representing the highest temperatures. What appear to be explosions actually come from supermassive black holes blasting jets of material into intergalactic space, carving out huge bubbles. The view then morphs to show the abundance of heavy elements (purple) mixed into the gas, illustrating how dying stars have seeded space with chemicals like oxygen and iron. Finally, the video shifts back to dark matter before fading to a simulated view of the present-day universe teeming with galaxies.

Illustris simulation

This still frame from the Illustris simulation is centered on the most massive galaxy cluster existing today. The blue-purple filaments show the location of dark matter, which attracts normal matter gravitationally and helps galaxies and clusters to clump together. Bubbles of red, orange and white show where gas is being blasted outward by supernovae or jets from supermassive black holes.

Illustris Collaboration

Illustris simulation

This composite image from the Illustris simulation is centered on the most massive galaxy cluster existing today. It morphs from concentrations of dark matter (at left in blue and purple) to normal matter made mostly of hydrogen and helium gas (at right in red, orange and yellow).

Illustris Collaboration

These visible-light images compare an actual photograph of the sky (left) taken with the Hubble Space Telescope to a simulated view (right) generated by the Illustris simulation. The simulation accurately reproduces the sizes, types, and colors of galaxies in the universe.

NASA / Illustris Collaboration