How do you understand the development of galaxies when even the younger examples are frequently billions of years old? Simulate as many universes as you can, apparently. Researchers at the University of Arizona have used the school’s Ocelote supercomputer as a “UniverseMachine” that generates millions of mini universes to see how well they line up with the real cosmos. Rather than try to portray every nuance of the whole universe (even a single fully modeled galaxy would require far too much computing power), the team devised a system that had just enough resolution to scale from supernovae to a “sizeable chunk” of observed space. Each virtual universe had a different set of rules, and it was largely a matter of seeing which simulations lined up the closest with real data.

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