Supercomputer to power search for gravitational waves

Friday 18 August 2017

Matthew Bailes the director of OzGrav.

Matthew Bailes says OzGrav could contribute to the next landmark discovery in gravitational wave astrophysics

In summary

  • $4 million supercomputer to support ground-breaking research into astrophysics and gravitational waves
  • Gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years ago
  • First gravitational waves detected in 2015

A new $4 million supercomputer based at Swinburne has been chosen to help the new Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery’s search for gravitational waves.

The Centre, known as OzGRav, was funded last year to capitalise on the first detections of gravitational waves and to help understand the extreme physics of black holes and curved space-time.

“This machine will have the ability to stream and process live data from the Advanced LIGO detectors to search for coalescing black holes and neutron stars in real time, but also search for the most relativistic pulsars in our own galaxy”, says OzGRav Director, Professor Matthew Bailes.

“In one second, the machine can perform 10,000 calculations for every one of the 100 billion stars in our own galaxy.

“It is 125,000 times more powerful than the first supercomputer I built at the institution in 1998.”

Gravitational waves were first predicted 100 years ago by Albert Einstein in his theory of General Relativity, which described how gravity warps and distorts space-time.

Einstein's mathematics showed that massive accelerating objects (such as neutron stars or black holes orbiting each other) distort both space and time and emit a new type of radiation, known as gravitational waves.

But these gravitational waves remained undetected for a century until advances in detector sensitivity at the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (aLIGO) enabled their detection in September 2015.

Shortly after being switched on, aLIGO physically sensed distortions in space-time itself caused by passing gravitational waves generated by two colliding black holes nearly 1.3 billion light years away that moved its mirrors by just 1/10000th of the width of a proton.

The Swinburne supercomputer powered by Dell EMC will be used to sift through the reams of data from aLIGO to try and detect other examples of mergers, explosions and even tiny ‘mountains’ on neutron stars.

“It’s exciting to think that we at OzGrav could contribute to the next landmark discovery in gravitational wave astrophysics – and the Dell EMC supercomputer, known as OzStar, will allow us to capture, visualise and process the data to make those discoveries”, says Professor Bailes.

Up to 35 per cent of OzStar’s time will be spent on OzGrav research related to gravitational waves. It will also incorporate the gSTAR national facility for the astronomy community, continuing the Swinburne-hosted program funded by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy in cooperation with Astronomy Australia Limited.

“The supercomputer will also serve other astronomers both at Swinburne and nationally who calculate theoretical models and crunch data, as well as meeting the high-performance computing needs of Swinburne staff and students across all disciplines,” says Professor Jarrod Hurley, from Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing.

OzStar replaces the ‘green’ machines that have been used by Swinburne for the last decade. It features the latest generations of Intel CPUs and NVIDIA GPUs to maximise performance and the design aims to further reduce Swinburne’s carbon footprint by minimising CO2 emissions. This is done by carefully considering heating, cooling and a very high performance-per-Watt ratio of power consumption.

Dell EMC’s high-performance computing lead, Andrew Underwood says the new supercomputer will enable Swinburne researchers to “push the limits” in research breakthroughs.