As supercomputers improve, astronomers are starting to simulate what telescopes will see before they’re even built

Multiverses-in-a-box let us simulate the cosmos before we see it

How did this form? (Image: NASA, ESA, N. Smith (University of California, Berkeley), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/UCSD)

A SUPERNOVA has exploded in a galaxy not unlike our own. The photons unleashed will travel for billions of years through vacuum, dust and Earth’s atmosphere before being focused on to a telescope. From faint specks in blurred pictures, astronomers will use that supernova and many others to gauge the strength of dark energy, the mysterious force stretching our universe apart.

Only this isn’t our universe. It’s a giant fake – a simulation with a known amount of dark energy plugged in at the beginning. As if checking their answers against the ones in the back of the book, researchers compare the programmed strength of dark energy against that measured from the mocked-up images the virtual telescopes create. The difference between the two will let astronomers …

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