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October 14, 2005

UKAFF Scores a Century

Nicole Hemsoth

The UK Astrophysical Fluids Facility (UKAFF) is marking the publication of the 100th scientific paper based on the computations of its supercomputer.

The UKAFF is a national supercomputing facility dedicated to theoretical astrophysics and is housed in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester. The 112-processor IBM supercomputer is funded by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

The UKAFF supercomputer has solved mysteries of distant galaxies thanks to its advanced features. Since the supercomputer came on line in January 2001, calculations made on the machine have revolutionized several fields in astronomy.

“We now know much more about how stars and planets form as a direct result of these calculations”, said Matthew Bate of the University of Exeter. Astronomers also used the machine to show how a jet of matter fired from a massive black hole at incredibly high speed can keep hot the gas in a whole cluster of galaxies. “Before this calculation, people thought that this gas must cool down and make monster galaxies,” said Marcus Brueggen, now of the International University of Bremen.

The 100th paper was written by Ian Bonnell of St. Andrews and collaborators. For the first time they showed how galaxies sweep up gas into dense clouds, which eventually collapse into stars. This explains how distant galaxies light up their beautiful spiral patterns by making bright new stars.