Religion and science tell us two different versions of how our world came to be. According to the book of Genesis, God created the world in seven days, while science has many theories, one of which is the Big Bang theory. It suggests that the universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state that expanded rapidly which caused the young universe to cool and resulted in its present continuously expanding state. Over the years, scientists and researchers continue to analyze how the world we live in came to existence. And now, supercomputers are telling us their side of the story.
Pleiades, is one of the five most powerful supercomputers run by the federal government, and ranks 7th in the list of most powerful supercomputers in the world, providing the most realistic simulation so far of how the universe evolves.
Pleiades is a NASA supercomputer that uses the simulation code Bolshoi to show the distribution of dark matter, a substance that consists of enormous amount of gravity that doesn’t interact with normal and cannot be directly observed, across a span of 1 billion light years. The supercomputer is housed in NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California.
Bolshoi uses data gathered from NASA’s highly successful Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) mission which measured the faint “cosmic microwave background” left over from the Big Bang to trace the eventual formation of large structures. The Bolshoi simulation traces how the largest galaxies and galaxy structures in the universe were formed billions of years ago. Collaboration with astrophysicists at New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico and the University of California High-Performance Astrocomputing Center (UC-HIPACC), Santa Cruz, California ran the Bolshoi code on Pleiades for 18 days, which consumed millions of hours of computer time, and generated enormous amounts of data.
“NASA installs systems like Pleiades, that are able to run single jobs that span tens of thousands of processors, to facilitate scientific discovery,” said William Thigpen, systems and engineering branch chief in the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Division at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “The Bolshoi simulation is an excellent example of work done in support of NASA’s science goal to understand how stars, galaxies and planets are formed, in order to get a picture of how the universe has changed over billions of years,” Thigpen added.
Pleiades’ new graphics processing units came from NVIDIA, Corp. and this greatly sped up parts of the Bolshoi calculations.
“Being able to tap into the power and speed of Pleiades has improved the Bolshoi simulation in every respect,” said Joel Primack, director of the University of California High-Performance AstroComputing Center (UC-HIPACC) and co-investigator on two studies reporting on the simulation results, slated for publication in the Astrophysical Journal in October. “In addition, ultra-high-resolution images and animations created by NAS visualization experts have provided the basis for imaging and interpreting our latest simulation results,” Primack said.