Space science questions that help the computer answer

What did the first universe look like?

Advances in computing will help astronomers turn the cosmic clock back. Earlier this year, it was used by astronomers in Japan ATERUI II, a supercomputer that specializes in astronomical simulations, to reconstruct what the universe looked like before the Big Bang.

ATERUI II assists researchers in the investigation cosmic inflation—The theory that the first universe expanded greatly from one moment to the next. Astronomers agree that this expansion will leave drastic changes in matter density that will affect the distribution of galaxies and the way they develop.

The project requires a large amount of data storage (about 10 terabytes, equivalent to 22,000 episodes in Game of Thrones)

By comparing 4,000 simulations of the first universe — all with different density fluctuations — against the real thing, scientists can go back in time and question why other parts of the universe are full of cosmic activity while others are barren.

Masato Shirasaki, an assistant professor at Japan’s National Astronomical Observatory, says the question is almost impossible to answer without these simulations. The project requires a large amount of data storage (about 10 terabytes, equivalent to 22,000 episodes of Game of Thrones).

Shirasaki’s team modeled how the universe is believed to have evolved and applied it to each of the simulations to see which result would be closest to what it looks like today. This method simplifies the analysis of the physics of cosmic inflation.

Over the next few years, Shirasaki’s methods will help shorten the observation time required for future efforts such as SPHEREx, a two-year mission set for 2024 involving a spacecraft that will orbit the Earth and look at nearly 300 million galaxies across the sky. With these leaps in computing, our understanding of the universe expands, gradually.

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