Supercomputer time allocation to boost simulations of exploding stars

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

The U.S. Department of Energy has allocated 70 million processor hours on the IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory to the University of Chicago's Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes.

The Blue Gene/P supercomputer is the world's fastest open-science computer. Access to the Blue Gene/P was made possible by a time allocation from the DOE's Innovative and Novel Computation Impact on Theory and Experiment program (INCITE).

The INCITE award will permit Flash Center scientists to virtually incinerate white dwarf stars, which pack one-and-a-half times the mass of the sun into an object the size of Earth. When white dwarfs explode, they produce type Ia supernovas, which evidence indicates manufactures most of the iron in the universe.

A better understanding of type Ia supernovas could help solve the mystery of dark energy, one of the grandest challenges facing today's cosmologists. Dark energy is somehow causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate. Gravity should have been causing the expansion, which followed the big bang, to become slower with time.

In the simulations at Argonne, the Flash team will analyze how burning occurs in four possible scenarios that lead to type Ia supernovas. The Flash Center's findings could potentially impact the design of the instruments, scientific observing strategy, and analysis and interpretation of data for the Joint Dark Energy Mission, a partnership between NASA and DOE.

The Flash Center was founded in 1997 with a contract from the Office of Advanced Simulation and Computing of DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The NNSA's Academic Strategic Alliance Program has sustained the Flash Center with funding and computing resources throughout its history.