A brief history of computational astrophysics
Dr. David Hubber (Excellence Cluster Universe, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München)
The scientific method traditionally involves a cyclic process of developing predictive theories and performing falsifying experiments to better understand physical phenomena. However, astrophysics is a field where direct experiments are almost impossible and even observing natural phenomena at a distance is often impractical due to technical challenges and the extremely long time scales (up to billions of years). This has resulted in numerical experiments, i.e. computer simulations, becoming an important tool in testing and falsifying theories in place of real-world experiments. We discuss the history and development of the numerical experiment in astrophysics from its beginnings in the mid-20th century to the present day and how it has been used in various fields of astronomy like star formation, galaxy evolution and cosmology to solve key problems. We will also discuss some of its drawbacks, how its role has evolved and how it has influenced the scientific method in astronomy today.