A release of the data for the IllustrisTNG simulation of the universe

Screenshot from an IllustrisTNG simulation (Image courtesy IllustrisTNG project)
Screenshot from an IllustrisTNG simulation (Image courtesy IllustrisTNG project)

An article published in the journal “Computational Astrophysics and Cosmology” presents the complete public release of the simulations coded as TNG100 and TNG300 of the IllustrisTNG project, a highly sophisticated simulation of the universe that has been improved over years of work. A team of researchers kept on improving its details and functionalities also by developing new interaction and exploration 2D and 3D tools to simulate two cubes of space of 100 and 300 million parsec side length.

Cosmological models have been tested with computer simulations for some decades but only in recent years computers started reaching enough computing powers to create simulations that, based on the laws of physics, were able to reproduce several different properties of galaxies with their internal structure, their stars, black holes, interstellar gas, dark matter and more along with their evolution. About five years ago a great job led to the presentation of the results of Illustris, which at the time was the most sophisticated simulation of the universe ever produced but the work was far from over.

In February 2018 the first results of the new phase of the project, called Illustris-The Next Generation or simply IllustrisTNG, were presented. The simulations have become really complex solving a combination of the fluid dynamics equations with Maxwell electromagnetism equations to predict among other things motion and properties of cosmic gas in cases where it’s in the form of plasma allowing to calculate the evolution of cosmic magnetic fields.

Even using 24,000 processors of the Hazel Hen supercomputer, in Stuttgart, it took over two months for the main IllustrisTNG simulation. Other simulations conducted on relatively small volumes were intended to test different hypotheses, for example the ones about the possible characteristics of dark matter even though the main approach remains the standard cosmological model based on dark matter and dark energy.

During 2018 the IllustrisTNG simulation was developed to make a new data set available at the end of the year. At that point only the public release of the data with an illustration of their characteristics was missing and it arrived with the new article. Dylan Nelson, of the Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik, Germany, first author of the article, stated that this release allows the entire astrophysical community to access the most advanced and realistic simulations that include a variety of galaxies, masses and formation scenarios than any other cosmological large-volume simulation of the universe produced so far.

A new interface called JupyterLab was added to allow access to an online platform that allows on-demand analysis and nteractive navigation to the IllustrisTNG project. This choice is due to the fact that the simulation has become so sophisticated that the total volume of data has exceeded one petabyte – to be clear, that means more 1,024 terabytes… – and that would make it difficult to download important parts.

The possible discrepancies between simulations and observations will allow to improve our cosmological models to explore with ever greater precision the processes of formation and evolution of galaxies. Predictions and hypotheses can be tested to help solve the mysteries of the universe that still exist.

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