For many years, I have been working on a project to visualize and animate the dynamics of galaxies using supercomputer simulations. Galaxies are complex dynamical objects driven by the mutual gravitational forces between their stars and invisible dark matter. Gravity drives the interactions and mergers of galaxies leading to beautiful transient forms: spirals, tails, shells and ripples. Astronomical images reveal these structures but unfortunately they represent a single snapshot in a long and complex evolution that spans cosmic history.
The enormous size of galaxies implies equally enormous timescales. The time for a single rotation of a spiral galaxy takes hundreds of millions of years. As creatures constrained to a century-long lifespan, we have no hope of directly witnessing the beauty of galactic evolution. The goal of this project is to use supercomputer simulations of realistic model galaxies to illustrate these slow and majestic dynamical processes on an accessible timescale and so breathe life into the iconic images of galaxies created by the world’s great telescopes.
The project has recently culminated in the release of a compilation of animations called GRAVITAS that can be seen on this website but is also available on DVD. GRAVITAS is a new synthesis of science and the arts. Long animation sequences of interacting galaxies and cosmic structure formation are set to the original music of Toronto composer John Kameel Farah, creating a compelling synthesis of sound and visualization of Newton’s laws and motion and gravity.
I hope you enjoy these animations as much as I have in creating them!