Galaxies Evolve in ‘Universe Machine’

By creating millions of virtual universes and comparing them to observations of actual galaxies, a UA-led research team has made discoveries that present a powerful new approach for studying galaxy formation

How do galaxies such as our Milky Way come into existence? How do they grow and change over time? The science behind galaxy formation has remained a puzzle for decades, but a University of Arizona-led team of scientists is one step closer to finding answers thanks to supercomputer simulations.

Observing real galaxies in space can only provide snapshots in time, so researchers who want to study how galaxies evolve over billions of years have to revert to computer simulations. Traditionally, astronomers have used this approach to invent and test new theories of galaxy formation, one-by-one. Peter Behroozi, an assistant professor at the UA Steward Observatory, and his team overcame this hurdle by generating millions of different universes on a supercomputer, each of which obeyed different physical theories for how galaxies should form.

The findings, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, challenge fundamental ideas about the role dark matter plays in galaxy formation, how galaxies evolve over time and how they give birth to stars.

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