UIB Scientists will research black holes with the fastest supercomputers in Europe

Millions of computation hours will solve Einstein’s equations to look for blackholes’ footprints

18 November, 2011

Shown is an x-y-t diagram. Time is running upwards. At each instant of time the intersection of the x-y-plane with a spherical black hole is a circle. For orbiting black holes, the resulting picture can be called the "twisted pants".

An international research project lead by Sascha Husa, from the UIB Relativity and Gravitation Group, has been awarded time at the biggest network of world-class supercomputers in Europe. These computers will be used to simulate the most violent processes in the Universe since the Big Bang: collisions of black holes. The award of 16.7 million core hours will allow the researchers to use more than 1900 processor cores for one year. The ultimate goal? To look for gravitational waves, ripples in space and time predicted by Einstein almost 100 years ago, but not yet directly detected.

Gravitational waves are generated by accelerating masses, such as orbiting black holes, similar to the way accelerating electrical charges emit electromagnetic waves, like light, infra-red and radio waves -- with the important difference that gravitational waves are far weaker. For this reason it is electromagnetic waves that have told us almost everything we have learnt about the cosmos since ancient times. If we could also detect gravitational waves, that would push open a new window on the universe, and tell us about its "dark side".

The research team comprises more than 20 physicists working at UIB, the Universities of Cardiff, Vienna, and Jena, the Albert Einstein Institute in Potsdam, and the California Institute of Technology.

Testing Einstein's relativity

Over the past decade a network of gravitational wave detectors has been built, including the US LIGO and European Virgo detectors, with the ambitious goal of making the first direct detections of the elusive gravitational waves. These detectors are now being upgraded, so that in the next few years they will be sensitive to 1000 times more of the universe, and even cautious estimates suggest that they will observe tens of gravitational-wave events each year.

Coalescing black holes are prime candidates for the first observations. The results of this project will help to identify the sources of these signals, and contribute to answer important open questions in astrophysics and fundamental physics, such as whether the objects created in these cosmic collisions are really black holes, or even more exotic objects like naked singularities. In the process we will be able to test if Einstein's theory of gravity is correct, or whether, just as Newton's gravity gave way to Einstein's, perhaps Einstein's relativity gives way to even deeper insights into the nature of space and time.

The world's fastest supercomputers

Computer Hermit (Gauss Center for Supercomputing)

While supercomputing resources in Europe used to be relatively scarce, the PRACE Research Infrastructure now provides access to world-class supercomputers for European research projects, which undergo a competitive peer review process. The PRACE infrastructure currently consists of three world-class supercomputers, which can each perform about 1 Petaflop, that is a thousand billion arithmetic operations per second. The first machine in the network, the German Jugene, started operation in 2010, and it was joined in early 2011 by the French machine Curie, and the German system Hermit is about to officially start operation on November 1. Future computers in the PRACE network are planned in Germany, Italy, and Spain.

The researchers at UIB are part of the national CPAN and Multidark research networks, and are the only Spanish group taking part in the LIGO project. Further simulations are performed at Mare Nostrum, Spain's leading supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputing applications in Barcelona.

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