We just took a step closer to unlocking the mysteries of black holes using next-level supercomputer code
Black holes aren’t known for their simplicity, and an ongoing task for physicists is to try to predict how these mysterious phenomena behave on the little information we’re able to glean. Given the difficulties of solving the nebulous system of Einstein equations needed to do this, our knowledge of black holes relies on powerful supercomputers chomping through complex algorithms.
Now, researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt and the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) have said they have an accurate simulation of two merging black holes, using code designed to work on computers that don’t yet exist.
Confused? Well, the scientists have been developing a numerical simulation code for gravitational waves, dubbed “ExaHyPE”, designed to exploit the power of next-generation “exascale” supercomputers. These computers, which have yet to be built, are expected to be able to perform as many arithmetic operations per second as there are insects on Earth – a number that gets close to the capacity of the human brain, and should make short work of modeling a black hole.
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While an exascale supercomputer has yet to be built, the researchers have been honing their ExaHyPE code at the largest supercomputing centres available in Germany. Led by professor Luciano Rezzolla of Goethe University, the approach uses a novel numerical method that employs the ideas of the Russian physicist Boris Galerkin. The team says it has reached a milestone, and that its simulation could dramatically expand the experimental possibilities for detecting gravitational waves from a range of astronomical bodies.
“Reaching this result, which has been the goal of many groups worldwide for many years, was not easy,” says Professor Rezzolla. “Although what we accomplished is only a small step toward modelling realistic black holes, we expect our approach to become the paradigm of all future calculations.”
The research, published in Physical Review D, centred on the Leibniz supercomputing centre LRZ in Munich, and the high-performance computing centre HLRS in Stuttgart, which already hold more than 100,000 processors. As well as modeling the complexities of black holes and neutron stars, the new mathematical algorithms can be applied to investigating Earthbound phenomena, such as tsunamis and earthquakes. With a greater understanding of those natural disasters, it may be possible to create more accurate simulations for predicting their activity.
For the researchers, the milestone in modelling merging black holes is a perfect meeting point between a number of disciplines. “The most exciting aspect of the ExaHyPE project is the unique combination of theoretical physics, applied mathematics and computer science,” says Professor Michael Dumbser, leader of the Applied Mathematics team in Trento. “Only the combination of these three different disciplines allows us to exploit the potential of supercomputers for understanding the complexity of the universe.”
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