Milky Way Recreated

By Gwen Myslinski

People use computers every day — it’s become a way of life. There are even supercomputers that are faster and more technologically advanced than the everyday computers that many are familiar with. What can these supercomputers do? Lots — even simulate an almost exact, extra-high resolution replica of the Milky Way galaxy. It may not sound like much, but it took researchers nine months to figure out the correct calculations — something that would take current, ordinary PCs 570 years to complete.

Eris Galaxy

Astrophysicists from the University of Zurich, together with astronomers from the University of California at Santa Cruz, used supercomputers from Zurich’s Swiss National Supercomputer Center and the NASA Advanced Supercomputer Division’s Pleiades to create “Eris,” the name of the simulated galaxy. “The Eris galaxy is a massive spiral galaxy with a central bar of bright stars and other structural properties consistent with galaxies like the Milky Way,” according to a press release from UC Santa Cruz.

It has taken 20 years for astrophysicists to understand such a complex system like the formation of the Milky Way realistically, and creating Eris is proof that the base theories of astrophysics were correct. According to the University of Zurich, "All previous attempts to recreate the formation of spiral galaxies like the Milky Way faltered on one of two points: Either the simulated spiral galaxies displayed too many stars at the center or the overall stellar mass was several times too big."

Future generations can now use this simulation for additional predictions and future findings. If only there was a time machine to see what the future holds... 


Credit: University of Zurich

Left: simulated galaxy, the gas is red and the stars are blue; Right: a photo in false color of the galaxy M74, again the gas is red and the stars are blue. In both photos the spiral arms of the gas are apparent.

Classroom Discussion

  • What else could this simulation predict?
  • With technology advancing so quickly, what would you want to explore and with what technology (phones, computers, telescopes, etc.)?