We know a lot about what the Milky Way looks like, but very little about how it got that way.
However, scientists at the University of Zurich may have just painted the most realistic picture of the formation of our galaxy to date. While in the past simulations have been able to achieve the classic spiral galaxy shape, none have recreated the distinctive swirl of the Milky Way like this video.
The study behind the video was originally published in March in the Astrophysical Journal and was revised and republished in late August.
The video itself (seen below) is extremely complex, despite its seemingly predictable path. In fact, it took two supercomputers from NASA and the Swiss National Supercomputing Center to compile the video, according to La Informacion.
"Previous efforts to form a massive disk galaxy like the Milky Way had failed, because the simulated galaxies ended up with huge central bulges compared to the size of the disk," said Javiera Guedes, the paper's author, in a press release published by UC Santa Cruz.
"The simulation follows the interactions of more than 60 million particles of dark matter and gas. A lot of physics goes into the code--gravity and hydrodynamics, star formation and supernova explosions--and this is the highest resolution cosmological simulation ever done this way," Guedes also said.
Piero Madau, one of the paper's co-authors, explained the difficulties behind creating such a video, according to the press release:
Star formation in real galaxies occurs in a clustered fashion, and to reproduce that out of a cosmological simulation is hard [...] This is the first simulation that is able to resolve the high-density clouds of gas where star formation occurs, and the result is a Milky Way type of galaxy with a small bulge and a big disk. It shows that the cold dark matter scenario, where dark matter provides the scaffolding for galaxy formation, is able to generate realistic disk-dominated galaxies.
Take a look at the video (below), then check out an amazing video of the Milky Way observed from earth.