A supercomputer used for a research project known as the “Millennium Run” aims to simulate the evolution of the universe, from the Big Bang to present. To prove or revise theories about the universe’s creation, the simulation tracks billions of mass points and tracks the movement of dark matter. The results can then be compared to the current state of the universe. Read on to find out more.
The Virgo Consortium is responsible for the Millennium Run, which is performed on one of the fastest supercomputers in the world. Located at the Max Planck Society in Garching, Germany, the machine is rated #85 on the Top 500 list of 2004 (http://www.top500.org). Its 822 processors are reported as reaching 2.198 TFLOPS (trillion floating point operations per second), which is still impressive despite the world’s top machine reaching 70.72 TFLOPS. Five years ago, the fastest supercomputer ran at a mere 0.170 TFLOPS.
Researchers are using data about the radiation spreading after the Big Bang, collected by heat detecting satellites. Also, the simulation uses laws of physics established here on earth and our current understanding of the makeup of the universe. This information is turned into equations and algorithms and used to track some of the largest masses since the universe began. The very principle of the experiment is that people can quantify and understand every factor in the spreading of the universe as numbers, and that there must be an equation for everything with a noticeable impact on the universe’s evolution.
There supercomputer is tracking 10,000,000,000 points of mass, the largest of such simulations which still only accounts for about 0.003% of the total mass of the universe that we know about. The mass points are roughly a billion times the size of our sun, and they do not correspond to anything substantial. For instance, a mass point is not the location of a star or black hole. The mass points are just for simulation purposes, trying to add proportionate gravity to areas of the universe where there are stellar objects.
For each step of the simulation, the program must calculate the gravitational pull of each object on every other object. Each single mass point is moved by every one of the billions of other points. To do the calculations for every point over billions of years would take 60 thousand years on the current hardware setup. Because this is a little too long to be helpful to researchers, they developed a system of separating the simulated universe into smaller sections. Mass points within each section are summed, and their combined mass is then used for the calculations. Instead of measuring the relationship between every single mass point, the points are instead moved by the combined mass of sections of the universe. After the revised programming, it took the supercomputer roughly a month of constant work to come up with the first set of results.
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