The simulations developed by an international team of astronomers, based at the Universities of Leiden in the Netherlands and Durham in the UK, took several months to run at the 'Cosmology Machine' in Durham and at 'Curie' in Paris, among the largest computers used for scientific research in the UK and France, respectively.
Astronomers can now use the results to study the development of galaxies from almost 14 billion years ago until now. For years, astronomers have studied the formation of galaxies using computer simulations, but with limited success.
The galaxies that formed in previous simulations were often too massive, too small, too old and too spherical. The galaxies formed in the EAGLE-simulation (Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments) are a much closer reflection of real galaxies thanks to the strong galactic winds, which blow away the gas supply needed for the formation of stars, researchers said. EAGLE's galaxies are lighter and younger because fewer stars form and they form later.
"The universe generated by the computer is just like the real thing. There are galaxies everywhere, with all the shapes, sizes and colours I've seen with the world's largest telescopes. It is incredible. In the EAGLE universe I can even press a button to make time run backwards," said coauthor Richard Bower from Durham University. The study appears in journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.