The model only uses equations from theories constructed from decades (even centuries) of astronomical observations and allowed to evolve with time. The result is nothing short of breathtaking and it can be hard to distinguish the model from real observations.
The model, called Illustris, created a 3-D space filled with 12 billion pixels, all calculating the fundamental equations that govern normal (and dark) matter. The researchers can now zoom in on regions of interest to focus on different mechanisms as they unfold. When they kicked off the simulation 12 million simulated years after the Big Bang, some 41,000 galaxies condensed into numerous galactic cluster from the seemingly chaotic churning of matter.
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"Illustris is like a time machine. We can go forward and backward in time. We can pause the simulation and zoom into a single galaxy or galaxy cluster to see what's really going on," added co-author Shy Genel, also of the CfA.
As noted in the Nature video accompanying the announcement of this study (below), there are some anomalies in the simulation that don't match our observations, but this is what science is all about; formulating hypotheses, testing theories and comparing them with observations. If something doesn't match up, there's something lacking in our understanding as to how the Cosmos works and astronomers will doggedly try to find answers to the mind-boggling questions the universe asks of us.