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Physicists seek animated answers to dark secrets of the universe

posted 29 Nov 2012, 08:41 by Mpelembe   [ updated 29 Nov 2012, 08:42 ]

Physicists at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois hope to unravel the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy with the most detailed computer simulations of the universe ever built. The two theoretical forces have never been detected but are believed to make up more than 95 percent of the universe The researchers want to know what the forces are and how they work. Ben Gruberreports.

Innovations -  It looks like abstract art, but it's pure science - the largest and most accurate model of the Universe ever created. Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory are using a powerful super-computer to build the simulationwith data sets gathered by cosmologists and deep space observatories around the world.

They're looking for answers to universal questions. What exactly are the forces called Dark Energy and Dark Matter? And how do they affect those parts of the universe we can see?

Project head, Salman Habib says the simulations could provide clues although it's a difficult and often frustrating search.

 SALMAN HABIN, PHYSICIST, ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY, "So you get this beautiful picture of the sky and you would say, well, this is all very beautiful but what does it mean. So the first task of a simulation is to extract meaning."


"So the Universe is the biggest object out there and therefore the most annoying. If you look at it you ask 'who ordered that, right'. So that's why I think theorists are so drawn to it because the idea of trying to explain effectively 'Creation' so to speak, is something that is very interesting. It use to belong to in a completely different sphere, right, in philosophy, etcetera. And now it's just hard science."

Habib says it's hard science now thanks to huge advances in technology. He says physicists have had equations that theorize how the Universe evolved for years. But, he says, these simulations allow for those theories to be tested against real cosmological data.


"That's the role that the simulations play. Without the simulations you wouldn't be able to go from the paper and pencil solutions to comparing to the observations. Or in the other directions, if I have very good observations I wouldn't be able to get any good science out of them unless I use a simulation to sort of work backwards."

Scientists believe that 95 percent of the Universe is made up of dark energy and dark matter - even though both forces are theoretical. Habib says such large scale simulations, in concert with increasingly detailed sky surveys, will hopefully shed light on their properties - allowing for a clearer picture of how the Universe formed and why it's expanding.