Ruth Mitchell

Durham super-computer to throw light on dark energy

Cosmologists in Durham have run a series of huge computer simulations of the Universe that could ultimately help solve the mystery of dark energy. Results of the simulations, carried out by Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC), tell researchers how to measure dark energy - a repulsive force that counteracts gravity.

The findings will also provide input into the design of a proposed satellite mission called SPACE - the SPectroscopic All-sky Cosmic Explorer - that could unveil the nature of dark energy.

Scientists believe dark energy, which makes up 70 per cent of the Universe, is driving its accelerating expansion. If this expansion continues to accelerate experts say it could eventually lead to a Big Freeze as the Universe is pulled apart and becomes a vast cold expanse of dying stars and black holes.

The simulations, which took 11 days to run on Durham’s unique Cosmology Machine (COSMA) computer, looked at tiny ripples in the distribution of matter in the Universe made by sound waves a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang.

ICC Director Professor Carlos Frenk said: “The ripples are a ‘gold standard’. By comparing the size of the measured ripples to the gold standard we can work out how the Universe has expanded and from this figure out the properties of the dark energy.

“Astronomers are stuck with the one universe we live in. However, the simulations allow us to experiment with what might have happened if there had been more or less dark energy in the universe.”

Professor Andrea Cimatti of Bologna University, part of the SPACE project, said: “Thanks to this comparison it will be possible to unveil the nature of dark energy and to understand how the structures in the Universe built up and evolved with cosmic time.”

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