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Scientists Create the Largest and Most Realistic Virtual Universe Ever

And it's freely available for anyone to download.

Scientists Create the Largest and Most Realistic Virtual Universe Ever
The model from a long, long distance. Tomoaki Ishiyama

Exploring the entire universe has never been easier.

An international team of researchers has created an entire virtual universe that they claim is the most realistic and largest universe simulation ever released, and that's not even the best part. The software is called Uchuu, "outer space" in Japanese, and it's freely available on the cloud to anyone who wants to explore the universe from the comfort of their homes.

Uchuu has 2.1 trillion "particles" in a mind-bending 9.63 billion light-year-wide computational cube, which is roughly 75 percent of the distance between Earth and the farthest galaxies we can see, according to a press release.

The model simulates the universe's history over a period of more than 13 billion years but examines the behavior of dark matter within an expanding cosmos rather than the development of stars and planets. Thanks to Uchuu's high level of detail, the researchers can distinguish anything from galaxy clusters to the dark matter halos of individual galaxies.

"Uchuu is like a time machine,” says Julia F. Ereza, a Ph.D. student at Instituto Astrofísica Andalucía in Spain who uses Uchuu. “We can go forward, backward and stop in time, we can ‘zoom in’ on a single galaxy or ‘zoom out’ to visualize a whole cluster, we can see what is really happening at every instant and in every place of the Universe from its earliest days to the present, being an essential tool to study the Cosmos."

This impressive project is the product of the supercomputer ATERUI II, which is specialized for astronomical programs, and all 40,200 of its CPU cores, located in Iwate. However, Uchuu was such an enormous project that it took the supercomputer a whole year to go through all of the data and create the simulation with the power of those cores being used exclusively for 48 hours each month for a total of 20 million supercomputer hours. 

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During the development of the software, researchers generated 3 petabytes (1 PB = 1,000,000 GB) of data, but thanks to compression techniques, they were able to compress the simulation to 100 terabytes (1 TB = 1,000 GB).

The data can be accessed online since the team has their raw data on skiesanduniverses.org, which means you can explore this virtual universe to your heart's content. While you won't be finding any alien civilizations in Uchuu, exploring the evolution of matter over almost the entire 13.8 billion year history of the universe from the Big Bang to the present doesn't sound too bad either.

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