NASA’s Roman Mission Gets Cosmic ‘Sneak Peek’ with Help from Supercomputers

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 12, 2024 18:00
Nasa's Roman Mission Gets Cosmic Sneak Peek With Help From Supercomputers

Researchers are utilizing cutting-edge supercomputers to provide a detailed preview of what NASA's Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory will observe in the cosmos.

This innovative approach aims to enhance our understanding of the universe and prepare for future groundbreaking discoveries.

Utilizing Supercomputers for Cosmic Simulations

Leveraging the immense computational power of supercomputers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, scientists have created nearly four million simulated images of the universe. These simulations are designed to replicate the observations that will be made by NASA's Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile.

The Same Region Of Sky As Simulated By The Vera C. Rubin Observatory (left, Processed By The Legacy Survey Of Space And Time Dark Energy Science Collaboration) And Nasa’s Nancy Grace Roman Space

Michael Troxel, an associate professor of physics at Duke University, led the simulation campaign as part of a broader project known as OpenUniverse. The team has already released a 10-terabyte subset of this data, with the remaining 390 terabytes expected to be available later this year.

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The simulations were generated using Argonne's now-retired Theta supercomputer, which completed the task in about nine days—an endeavor that would have taken approximately 300 years on a standard laptop. “Using Argonne’s now-retired Theta machine, we accomplished in about nine days what would have taken around 300 years on your laptop,” said Katrin Heitmann, a cosmologist and deputy director of Argonne’s High Energy Physics division. This achievement underscores the critical role of supercomputing in pushing the boundaries of cosmological research.

This Photo Displays Argonne Leadership Computing Facility’s Now Retired Theta Supercomputer.

Preparing for Future Observations

These simulations are groundbreaking as they incorporate the performance characteristics of the telescopes' instruments, providing the most accurate preview yet of how Roman and Rubin will observe the cosmos. The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is slated to begin operations in 2025, while NASA's Roman Space Telescope is set to launch by May 2027.

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The precision of these simulations is crucial because the telescopes will gather data to identify subtle features that could help solve some of cosmology's biggest mysteries, including the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

“OpenUniverse lets us calibrate our expectations of what we can discover with these telescopes,” explained Jim Chiang, a staff scientist at DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. This preparation allows scientists to refine their data processing methods and analysis techniques, ensuring they are ready to interpret real data as soon as it becomes available. By understanding the instrument signatures imprinted on the images and ironing out data processing methods now, researchers will be well-equipped to decipher future data correctly and make significant discoveries from even the weakest signals.

NASA-Led Collaboration Drives Innovation in Astronomical Simulations

The scale of this simulation required a massive collaborative effort from multiple organizations. The project brought together experts from the DOE, Argonne, SLAC, NASA, and several universities, demonstrating the power of teamwork in tackling complex scientific challenges. “Few people in the world are skilled enough to run these simulations,” said Alina Kiessling, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the principal investigator of OpenUniverse. “This massive undertaking was only possible thanks to the collaboration between the DOE, Argonne, SLAC, and NASA, which pulled all the right resources and experts together.”

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The simulations cover the same patch of the sky, about 0.08 square degrees, roughly equivalent to a third of the area covered by a full Moon. The full simulation, to be released later this year, will span 70 square degrees, an area equivalent to 350 full Moons. By overlapping the data from both telescopes, scientists can take advantage of Rubin’s broader view and Roman’s sharper, deeper vision, resulting in more comprehensive and accurate astronomical observations.

Impact on Future Research

These simulations not only offer a sneak peek into the potential discoveries of Roman and Rubin but also serve as a rehearsal for scientists. By simulating the types of data these telescopes will produce, researchers can refine their analysis techniques and processing pipelines, ensuring they are ready to make significant discoveries when the real data starts coming in. This preparation is crucial for making efficient use of the large datasets expected from these telescopes.

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The collaborative effort also involves developing simulation tools to prepare for the massive datasets expected from Roman. These tools, along with the OpenUniverse project, aim to streamline data processing and analysis, making it more accessible and efficient for scientists. “We made phenomenal strides in simplifying these pipelines and making them usable,” Kiessling said. Partnerships with institutions like Caltech/IPAC’s IRSA (Infrared Science Archive) are crucial in making simulated data accessible now, so researchers will already be familiar with the tools when they start working with real data.

Increasing Understanding of the Universe

The Roman and Rubin simulations offer scientists a unique opportunity to compare observations from both telescopes. This dual approach allows researchers to combine Rubin's wide-field surveys with Roman's high-resolution, deep-field images, yielding insights that neither telescope could achieve alone. This comprehensive strategy will improve constraints on dark matter and dark energy and enhance our understanding of the universe’s evolution.

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Connecting the simulations enables scientists to explore ways to resolve multiple objects that blend together in Rubin’s images and apply those corrections over its broader coverage. This combined use of data will allow for more accurate and detailed analyses, improving our understanding of the universe's large-scale structure and the underlying physics governing it.

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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