We’re probably not living in a computer simulation, despite some people’s insistence to the contrary. But that doesn’t mean we can’t create our own awe-inspiring simulations of the universe.

Physicists from across the world have released an advanced new universe-scale simulation called IllustrisTNG, perhaps the most sophisticated of its kind. It’s unlikely you’re in the camp of people who will actually use it, but all of us are definitely in the camp of people who think that its outputs look amazing.

IllustrisTNG allows researchers to recreate the formation and evolution of galaxies over time, or model the largest-scale structures like magnetic fields, or see how dark matter and heavier elements are distributed throughout the universe.

It’s important to note that simulations are not perfect recreations of the real universe, and all of them contain drawbacks. In IllustrisTNG’s case, the modeled universe is cube shaped and much smaller than our own, only (lol) a billion light years on each side.

Image: IllustrisTNG


But simulations are still important to help scientists gain insight into how the universe works, test theories and ideas, and figure out how to actually look in real life for effects they see in their simulation. In three papers published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, scientists watched how black holes affect star formation and how galaxies form and merge. Hints of galaxies torn apart by collisions are hard to see in real life, but the simulation can help point astronomers in the right direction.

So, sit back and take in this computer-made universe, and contemplate the vastness of our own.

[via the Simons Foundation]