University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Heavenly Dance

"Gravitas: Portraits of a Universe in Motion."

The universe may be expanding, with most galaxies moving away from one another, but not so for the Milky Way and neighbouring galaxy Andromeda. They are on a trajectory to collide in three billion years, and over another one billion years will merge and be reborn as a single elliptical galaxy. Astronomer John Dubinski, who specializes in the dynamics and formation of galaxies, has created a supercomputer simulation of the event on his DVD, “Gravitas: Portraits of a Universe in Motion.” (Right, the galaxies are shown a few million years after the merge begins with the smaller Milky Way on the bottom.)

The DVD also contains eight other simulations, ranging from galaxy formation, galaxy inter­actions, and star and galaxy clusters. Using the supercomputer at U of T’s Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, Dubinski has captured the universe’s complex gravitational dances. The pieces run from two to 8 minutes, and generally cover 50-100 million years per second. “It’s akin to time-lapse photography, except you take one frame per million years,” says Dubinski. He collaborates with composer John Kameel Farah – who intertwines such sounds as Middle Eastern music, baroque and electronica – to provide an ethereal musical backdrop. The DVD is available at www.galaxydynamics.org.

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