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Date: June 30, 2000

Desktop Galaxies: Computers Model The Cosmos

Albert Einstein said the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. For UVic astrophysicist, Dr. Arif Babul, the universe is becoming more comprehensible each day. In fact, he believes astronomers are on the brink of explaining the origin of the universe.
"Since the beginning of human civilization we have been wondering how the universe came into being, how life evolvedÉhow it all came together," says Babul. "We are living on the threshold of being able to answer those questions. It's a euphoric feeling."
Babul researches how our universe evolved from an extremely smooth state into a rich network of galaxies.
In recent years, astronomers have been using more and more powerful tools to observe the universe. The Hubble Space Telescope captures light that has traveled across the universe for billions of years, revealing clues about the early formation of galaxies, stars and planets. The deeper into space astronomers probe, the closer they get to the point of origin--the "big bang."
Babul uses such observations to help build theories of how the universe evolved and tests them with computer-based numerical simulations. Current theories suggest that the observed structures started out as tiny ripples that grew larger with time.
"Although the big picture is quite compelling, the details are not yet fully understood. If you use computer simulations to build a galaxy like our own Milky Way, current theories suggest there ought to be 1,000 satellite galaxies swirling around it," says Babul. "But when we look we barely see 10. Understanding the details of galaxy formation is the next frontier."
Babul, who was raised in Toronto and earned his PhD in astrophysics at Princeton University, also studies the formation of galaxy clusters--massive swarms of as many as 1,000 galaxies that also emit copious X-rays.
A large portion of his research funding comes from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and he notes his science has broad benefits
."Astronomers are constantly innovating and pushing the 'high-tech' envelope. The resulting products--ultra-sensitive detectors, advanced data-mining tools or highly sophisticated simulation software--find other practical applications that generate tremendous economic returns."
Media contacts:
Dr. Arif Babul (Physics and Astronomy) at (250) 721-8844.

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