“Cosmic” Super Computer Ponders Dark Energy Mystery of the Universe

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The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) at the University of Portsmouth (UK) recently went live with its first supercomputer, which has a 1,008-core Intel cluster capable of one billion calculations per second. It uses 2.66GHz Intel Xeon processors and has 85 terabytes of fast parallel storage and 10 terabytes of NFS storage. The Sciama supercomputer is using data from the Cerro Tololo Observatory in Chile (above) to research dark energy beginning in late 2011 – which will use optical data from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile to create an image of the night sky in the southern hemisphere.


As the name suggests, the research will study both dark matter, the theoretical matter whose gravitational pull is attributed to distorting light as it travels through the universe, and dark energy, which describes the force driving the accelerating expansion of the universe – the mysterious movement of galaxies away from each other.

"All the galaxies in the universe seem to be going faster and faster away from each other, which is a very strange thing indeed. We don't understand why they're going away faster and faster. Whatever's causing that we call dark energy, and from those distortions you see, you can learn about dark energy," senior research fellow at the University of Portsmouth Dr David Bacon explained.

The raw images taken by the Chilean telescope will be processed and analysed to profile the shape of galaxies. When the shape of these galaxies is similar, or aligned, it means the light that has travelled from them has been distorted in the same way, indicating the presence and location of dark matter.

"You can literally chop up this vast image of the night sky into little postage stamps of the galaxies you care about. And for each of those galaxies you just want to do some fairly simple tasks – you want to fit a profile to it, you want to measure its width, you want to count up all the pixel values.

"You want to do all those little things and you can do that independently of each little galaxy in your image – you don't need to have that vast image all in memory at one time. You can just send a little postage stamp to each core independently," Bacon said.

"By examining these observations in great detail, we can measure all the properties of galaxies – the facts and the data we need – and on the other hand, we can use the supercomputer to predict what different theories of dark energy would predict for those things we're seeing. So you can compare the predictions with the observations," he added.

International projects will use Sciama in the future, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III, which has been gathering data from the Sloan radio telescope in New Mexico for the past year. The five-year project aims to create a 3D image of the universe showing the distribution of galaxies in the largest volume of data from the universe ever surveyed.

The Daily Galaxy via University of Portsmouth

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