NASA’s Columbia Supercomputer Tackles Einstein’s Equations

By Nicole Hemsoth

July 28, 2006

For 90 years, physicists have tried to solve the equations that constitute Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity — the concept that matter, space and time are intertwined. But some of Einstein's abstract equations have proven too complicated to reliably calculate using traditional computer software and hardware.
 
Until now, that is. Thanks to the ingenuity of NASA scientists and computer technology from Silicon Graphics, Inc., that list of incalculable problems is growing shorter.

Recently, physicists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center successfully simulated the merger of two massive, orbiting black holes — an achievement that has eluded physicists for decades. Relying on Columbia, NASA's record — setting supercomputer built from 20 SGI Altix systems, the Goddard team was able to simulate how colliding black holes will throw off gravitational waves that ripple throughout the fabric of the universe.

Variations on 24 equations based on Einstein's relativity theory helped create the simulation of colliding black holes with equal mass — an event whose effects can continue for years. The black hole calculation stands out as the largest astrophysical “single run” ever performed on a NASA computer — the equivalent of 18 years of CPU time devoted to a single problem.

“These mergers are by far the most powerful events occurring in the universe, with each one generating more energy than all of the stars in the universe combined,” said Joan Centrella, head of the Gravitational Astrophysics Laboratory at Goddard. “By combining our latest codes with the tremendous computing power of Columbia, we now have realistic simulations that will help guide gravitational wave detectors coming online.”

To run the simulations on Columbia, Goddard physicists developed sophisticated software called Hahndol, an English representation of the Korean word for “one stone” — or in German, “ein stein.”

The Goddard team scaled its Hahndol code across up to 2,032 processors on Columbia — one-fifth of the system's total processor count. By linking four, 512-processor Altix systems via the high-speed SGI NUMAlink interconnect, NASA enabled the scientists to access all of the processors' memory at once. The project, begun some 18 months ago, has required millions of CPU hours. Individual calculations involved hundreds of gigabytes of information.

According to John Baker, NASA astrophysicist and one of the project leaders at NASA Goddard, calculating some of Einstein's more involved equations had proven elusive because representing the three-dimensional fabric of the universe is enormously complex, and simulating its behaviors grows increasingly complicated. Previous calculations relying on software that was less sophisticated than Hahndol would, before long, render results that were obviously inaccurate.

“You can picture the simulation taking place on a kind of 3D graph paper with hundreds of points, and we'll calculate 80 variables for each point,” said Baker. “If the coordinates aren't accurate, things go awry very quickly.”

NASA pursued the simulations because gravitational waves are notoriously difficult to detect and measure. By successfully simulating the waves, the Goddard researchers are assisting another NASA project: the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA). Made up of three spacecraft flying just more than 3 million miles apart in an equilateral triangle, the LISA project will carry extraordinarily precise instruments to track one another and — more importantly — to detect if a gravitational wave passes between them. The sensitive instruments will recognize even the slightest force caused by a passing wave. For instance, if the laser that connects two LISA spacecraft is nudged as little as the width of an atom, the system will detect it.

The long-term project should help NASA scientists learn more about how black holes merge and how dying stars are consumed by black holes.

In the simulation created jointly by NASA Goddard and scientists at NASA Ames Research Center, the black holes seen merging are roughly 4 million times the mass of the sun. An animation of the simulation, created by Chris Henze, senior research scientist at NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division, can be viewed at http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/universe/gwave.html. The 29-second animation of circling black holes illustrates the final stage of a rapidly accelerating process. Though the entire merger process occurs over hundreds of millions of years, the last stage is over in only minutes.

“The work of the Goddard scientists is significant,” said Henze, who rendered the simulation that was computed on Columbia across 10 nodes of one of NASA Ames' two HyperWall displays. “These are very difficult problems. People have been working on them for decades.”

One of the world's most powerful computers, the Columbia supercomputer is built from 20 SGI Altix systems, each powered by 512 Intel Itanium 2 processors, and has revolutionized the rate of scientific discovery at NASA. For instance, on NASA's previous supercomputers, simulations showing five years worth of changes in ocean temperatures and sea levels were taking a year to model. But using a single SGI Altix system, scientists can simulate decades of ocean circulation in just days, while producing simulations in greater detail than ever before. And the time required to assess flight characteristics of an aircraft design, which involves thousands of complex calculations, dropped from years to a single day.

Recently, NASA added 600 TB of SGI InfiniteStorage 6700 storage capacity to the 10,240-processor Columbia system, and acquired a new 4 Gbit infrastructure to optimize data management with SGI InfiniteStorage Shared Filesystem CXFS. Originally outfitted with 440 TB of storage, NASA's Columbia supercomputer required additional storage capacity to accommodate the massive data management, access and retrieval demands of its broad user base.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Data Vortex Users Contemplate the Future of Supercomputing

October 19, 2017

Last month (Sept. 11-12), HPC networking company Data Vortex held its inaugural users group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) bringing together about 30 participants from industry, government and academia t Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Self-Training Goes Forward at Google DeepMind

October 19, 2017

DeepMind, Google’s AI research organization, announced today in a blog that AlphaGo Zero, the latest evolution of AlphaGo (the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion) trained itself within three days to play Go at a superhuman level (i.e., better than any human) – and to beat the old version of AlphaGo – without leveraging human expertise, data or training. Read more…

By Doug Black

Researchers Scale COSMO Climate Code to 4888 GPUs on Piz Daint

October 17, 2017

Effective global climate simulation, sorely needed to anticipate and cope with global warming, has long been computationally challenging. Two of the major obstacles are the needed resolution and prolonged time to compute Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Transforming Genomic Analytics with HPC-Accelerated Insights

Advancements in the field of genomics are revolutionizing our understanding of human biology, rapidly accelerating the discovery and treatment of genetic diseases, and dramatically improving human health. Read more…

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Cluster Competition coverage has come to its natural home: H Read more…

By Dan Olds

Data Vortex Users Contemplate the Future of Supercomputing

October 19, 2017

Last month (Sept. 11-12), HPC networking company Data Vortex held its inaugural users group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) bringing together ab Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Self-Training Goes Forward at Google DeepMind

October 19, 2017

DeepMind, Google’s AI research organization, announced today in a blog that AlphaGo Zero, the latest evolution of AlphaGo (the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion) trained itself within three days to play Go at a superhuman level (i.e., better than any human) – and to beat the old version of AlphaGo – without leveraging human expertise, data or training. Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Read more…

By Dan Olds

Intel Delivers 17-Qubit Quantum Chip to European Research Partner

October 10, 2017

On Tuesday, Intel delivered a 17-qubit superconducting test chip to research partner QuTech, the quantum research institute of Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. The announcement marks a major milestone in the 10-year, $50-million collaborative relationship with TU Delft and TNO, the Dutch Organization for Applied Research, to accelerate advancements in quantum computing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fujitsu Tapped to Build 37-Petaflops ABCI System for AIST

October 10, 2017

Fujitsu announced today it will build the long-planned AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) which is set to become the fastest supercomputer system in Japan Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Intel Debuts Programmable Acceleration Card

October 5, 2017

With a view toward supporting complex, data-intensive applications, such as AI inference, video streaming analytics, database acceleration and genomics, Intel i Read more…

By Doug Black

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This