Image courtesy of ANL
Large-scale structures in the universe form over time in these stills from a supercomputer simulation of the evolution of the universe.
Researchers used the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility’s IBM Blue Gene/Q for two weeks to simulate the evolution of the universe through the first 13 billion years after the big bang. The simulation tracks the movement of trillions of particles as they collide and interact with each other, forming structures that transform into galaxies.
The ultimate goal is to compare telescope observations of structure in the universe to the structure displayed in the computer model. One of the main mysteries they hope to solve with this simulation is the origin of the dark energy that's causing the universe to accelerate in its expansion.
Cosmology—the science of the origin and development of the universe—is entering one of its most scientifically exciting phases. Two decades of surveying the sky have culminated in the celebrated Cosmological Standard Model. While the model describes current observations to accuracies of several percent, two of its key pillars, dark matter and dark energy—together accounting for 95% of the mass energy of the universe—remain mysterious. Scientists would love to be able to rewind the universe and watch what happened from the start. Since that's not possible, researchers must create their own mini-universes inside computers and unleash the laws of physics on them, to study their evolution. Using the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility’s IBM Blue Gene/Q, researchers have simulated the evolution of the universe through the first 13 billion years after the big bang. The simulation tracks the movement of trillions of particles as they collide and interact with each other, forming structures that transform into galaxies. This simulation is part of a project led by physicists Salman Habib and Katrin Heitmann of Illinois' Argonne National Laboratory resolving galaxy-scale mass concentrations over observational volumes representative of state-of-the-art sky surveys. This initiative targets an approximately two- to three-orders-of-magnitude improvement over currently available resources. The simulation is based on the new HACC (Hardware/Hybrid Accelerated Cosmology Code) framework aimed at exploiting emerging supercomputer architectures such as the IBM Blue Gene/Q at the ALCF. HACC is the first (and currently the only) large-scale cosmology code suite worldwide that can run at this scale and beyond on all available supercomputer architectures. To achieve this versatility, the researchers had to build the code from scratch working closely with advanced computing researchers. One of the main mysteries they hope to solve with the simulations is the origin of the dark energy that's causing the universe to accelerate in its expansion.
Salman Habib, ANL
Calculations were performed using ALCF computing resources, supported by the Office of Science Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) program. ASCR provided computer time through its “Early Science program”. Additional funding was provided by SC's High Energy Physics (HEP) program and ANL's Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program.
A paper on the team's research, "The Universe at Extreme Scale: Multi-Petaflop Sky Simulation on the BG/Q," earned a finalist designation for the ACM Gordon Bell Prize and will be included in the Gordon Bell Prize sessions at SC12.
DOE Laboratory, SC User Facilities, ASCR User Facilities, ALCF