With the Help of HPC, Astronomers Prepare to Deflect a Real Asteroid

By Oliver Peckham

September 26, 2019

For years, NASA has been running simulations of asteroid impacts to understand the risks (and likelihoods) of asteroids colliding with Earth. Now, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing for the next, crucial step in planetary defense against asteroid impacts: physically deflecting a real asteroid.

Overview of the DART mission concept. Image courtesy of JHU/APL.

Orbiting between Earth and Mars are the “Didymos” double asteroids, the larger measuring 780 meters and the smaller 160 meters. Following a launch in July 2021, NASA and ESA are planning to deflect the smaller of the double asteroids (Didymos B) around September 2022 through the Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment, or AIDA. 

To do this, they will employ two spacecrafts: one (NASA’s DART, for “Double Asteroid Redirection Test”) to deflect the asteroid by crashing into it, the other (ESA’s “Hera” mission, launching in 2023) to survey the impact site on the asteroid after the fact.

“DART’s target, Didymos, is an ideal candidate for humankind’s first planetary defence experiment,” said planetary scientist Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “It is not on a path to collide with Earth, and therefore poses no current threat to the planet. However, its binary nature enables DART to trial and evaluate the effects of a kinetic impactor.”

While the Didymos asteroids are not on course for collision with Earth, the goal is to ensure that such a mission would succeed in that situation and to better understand the physical dynamics of an asteroid that is impacted in space. A similar mission by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which dropped a small explosive on an asteroid, produced a larger-than-anticipated crater and unexpected, sand-like behavior, indicating that gravity was dominating the process.

“If gravity is also dominant at Didymos B, even though it is much smaller, we could end up with a much bigger crater than our models and lab-based experiments to date have shown,” said planetary scientist Patrick Michel of the French National Center for Scientific Research. “Ultimately, very little is known about the behaviour of these small bodies during impacts and this could have big consequences for planetary defense.”

Beyond the practical results, the agencies have another, crucial objective with AIDA: validating their internal models. “The key question that remains to be answered is, are the technologies and models that we have good enough to actually work?” Ian Carnelli of the ESA explained to Technology Review.

Harrison Agrusa. Image courtesy of the subject.

Harrison Agrusa, a PhD student from the University of Maryland, is part of a team that has been simulating DART’s impact with Didymos B in preparation for the mission. Agrusa conducted his simulations on the “YORP” cluster at the University of Maryland’s Astronomy Center for Theory and Computation. YORP is a heterogeneous system with an aggregate 22 nodes, 544 cores (a mixture of Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron CPUs), 1.12 TB of RAM and around 75 TB of storage.

“[YORP] is a relatively small, heterogeneous system but it was perfect for our application,” Agrusa elaborated. “Most of my simulations just ran on a single node of 32 cores for about one month. This allowed me to integrate the dynamics of the Didymos system for five months of real life time with our gravitational n-body code[.]” 

A particle-based simulation of the asteroids. Image courtesy of H. Agrusa.

Agrusa’s simulations modeled the dual asteroids as collections of small spheres or particles, then applied the force of DART’s collision. The researchers have also leveraged another piece of code called GUBAS (and developed by Agrusa’s colleague Alex Davis) that allows them to integrate the motions of the asteroids as polyhedra rather than as collections of particles. “This is a significant speed-up since we don’t have to compute the potential by summing over every single constituent particle at every timestep,” Agrusa said.

Through these simulations, Agrusa and his fellow researchers found that – under certain conditions – DART should be able to produce “libration” (essentially, a distinct wobble) in the orbit of Didymos B around Didymos A. “The interesting thing, depending on where DART hits and how hard, is that we can see a pronounced wobble triggered as a result,” Harrison said. “We’ve compared four different simulation codes to study this post-impact swinging back and forth and seen the same effect recur in all of them, even with conservative estimates of DART’s momentum transfer.”

The YORP cluster. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland.

Since those initial models, the research team is setting his sights higher. While GUBAS can run on a single core, Agrusa’s team is looking into running it on YORP with a much larger parameter space. “I plan to use that code to do roughly ~1000 simulations split over 64 cores on YORP,” Agrusa told HPCwire. “Since these simulations only take a handful of hours of computer time, my 64 cores can run through ~1000 simulations in less than a week.”

Agrusa also recently returned to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where he began taking advantage of much more powerful computing resources – namely, the RZTopaz cluster, a Penguin system with 768 nodes, 27,648 Intel Xeon E5 cores, over 98 TB of RAM and a peak performance of 929 teraflops. 

Using RZTopaz, Agrusa is modeling DART’s high-velocity impact using Spheral, a multiphysics hydrodynamics code. For now, Agrusa has been running low-resolution test simulations – but even those, he says, take up to a week of clock time and over 30 TB of disk space. “So you can imagine,” he elaborated, “that when I end up doing the ‘high-resolution’ versions, that I won’t be able to do a whole lot of simulations because I simply don’t have the disk space for it.”

Ideally, the results of Agrusa’s models will line up with the results observed by Hera after DART’s impact, supporting the ability of these modeling approaches to accurately predict the results of deflection attempts in future real-world scenarios. Still, many unknowns remain – among them, the nature of Didymos B’s interior, which might be illuminated by the real-world observed change in libration. (“Measuring this effect will give researchers an important insight into the nature of Didymoon’s interior, constraining our models,” said Agrusa. “However, it is essential to have a spacecraft on location to make such a measurement.”)

While the culmination of this journey is still a few years off, Agrusa has his eyes on the prize.

“When the DART mission ends with its impact in 2022, then my PhD does too,” Agrusa concluded. “We’ll get a first glimpse of the actual shape of Didymoon from DART and the LICIA CubeSat – provided by ASI, the Italian Space Agency – it will deploy before colliding. Then, within a few years Hera will be providing its data, so we can rigorously compare our models to reality.”

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!

On the Spack Track @SC19

December 5, 2019

At the annual supercomputing conference, SC19 in Denver, Colorado, there were Spack events each day of the conference. As a reflection of its grassroots heritage, nine sessions were planned by more than a dozen thought leaders from seven organizations, including three U.S. national Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories and Sylabs... Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake

Intel’s New Hyderabad Design Center Targets Exascale Era Technologies

December 3, 2019

Intel's Raja Koduri was in India this week to help launch a new 300,000 square foot design and engineering center in Hyderabad, which will focus on advanced computing technologies for the AI and exascale era. "Over th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Debuts 7nm 2nd-Gen Graviton Arm Processor

December 3, 2019

The “x86 Big Bang,” in which market dominance of the venerable Intel CPU has exploded into fragments of processor options suited to varying workloads, has now encompassed CPUs offered by the leading public cloud serv Read more…

By Doug Black

Medical Imaging Gets an AI Boost

December 3, 2019

AI technologies incorporated into diagnostic imaging tools have proven useful in eliminating confirmation bias, often outperforming human clinicians who may bring their own prejudices. Another issue slowing progress is t Read more…

By George Leopold

Ride on the Wild Side – Squyres SC19 Mars Rovers Keynote

December 2, 2019

Reminding us of the deep and enabling connection between HPC and modern science is an important part of the SC Conference mission. And yes, HPC is a science itself. At SC19, Steve Squyres’ opening keynote recounting th Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Making High Performance Computing Affordable and Accessible for Small and Medium Businesses with HPC on AWS

High performance computing (HPC) brings a powerful set of tools to a broad range of industries, helping to drive innovation and boost revenue in finance, genomics, oil and gas extraction, and other fields. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

AI Needs Intelligent HPC infrastructure

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has revolutionized entire industries and enables humanity to solve some of the most daunting challenges. To accomplish this, it requires massive amounts of data from heterogeneous sources that is processed it new ways that differs significantly from HPC applications. Read more…

NSCI Update – Adapting to a Changing Landscape

December 2, 2019

It was November of 2017 when we last visited the topic of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI). As you will recall, the NSCI was started with an Executive Order (E.O. No. 13702), that was issued by President Obama in July of 2015 and was followed by a Strategic Plan that was released in July of 2016. The question for November of 2017... Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

On the Spack Track @SC19

December 5, 2019

At the annual supercomputing conference, SC19 in Denver, Colorado, there were Spack events each day of the conference. As a reflection of its grassroots heritage, nine sessions were planned by more than a dozen thought leaders from seven organizations, including three U.S. national Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories and Sylabs... Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake

Intel’s New Hyderabad Design Center Targets Exascale Era Technologies

December 3, 2019

Intel's Raja Koduri was in India this week to help launch a new 300,000 square foot design and engineering center in Hyderabad, which will focus on advanced com Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Debuts 7nm 2nd-Gen Graviton Arm Processor

December 3, 2019

The “x86 Big Bang,” in which market dominance of the venerable Intel CPU has exploded into fragments of processor options suited to varying workloads, has n Read more…

By Doug Black

Ride on the Wild Side – Squyres SC19 Mars Rovers Keynote

December 2, 2019

Reminding us of the deep and enabling connection between HPC and modern science is an important part of the SC Conference mission. And yes, HPC is a science its Read more…

By John Russell

NSCI Update – Adapting to a Changing Landscape

December 2, 2019

It was November of 2017 when we last visited the topic of the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI). As you will recall, the NSCI was started with an Executive Order (E.O. No. 13702), that was issued by President Obama in July of 2015 and was followed by a Strategic Plan that was released in July of 2016. The question for November of 2017... Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Tsinghua University Racks Up Its Ninth Student Cluster Championship Win at SC19

November 27, 2019

Tsinghua University has done it again. At SC19 last week, the eight-time gold medal-winner team took home the top prize in the 2019 Student Cluster Competition Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

SC19: IBM Changes Its HPC-AI Game Plan

November 25, 2019

It’s probably fair to say IBM is known for big bets. Summit supercomputer – a big win. Red Hat acquisition – looking like a big win. OpenPOWER and Power processors – jury’s out? At SC19, long-time IBMer Dave Turek sketched out a different kind of bet for Big Blue – a small ball strategy, if you’ll forgive the baseball analogy... Read more…

By John Russell

How the Gordon Bell Prize Winners Used Summit to Illuminate Transistors

November 22, 2019

At SC19, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) awarded the prestigious Gordon Bell Prize to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich. The Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using AI to Solve One of the Most Prevailing Problems in CFD

October 17, 2019

How can artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) solve mesh generation, one of the most commonly referenced problems in computational engineering? A new study has set out to answer this question and create an industry-first AI-mesh application... Read more…

By James Sharpe

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Looks to Propel Parallelism

September 4, 2019

As Moore’s law runs out of steam, new programming approaches are being pursued with the goal of greater hardware performance with less coding. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency is launching a new programming effort aimed at leveraging the benefits of massive distributed parallelism with less sweat. Read more…

By George Leopold

D-Wave’s Path to 5000 Qubits; Google’s Quantum Supremacy Claim

September 24, 2019

On the heels of IBM’s quantum news last week come two more quantum items. D-Wave Systems today announced the name of its forthcoming 5000-qubit system, Advantage (yes the name choice isn’t serendipity), at its user conference being held this week in Newport, RI. Read more…

By John Russell

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC19: IBM Changes Its HPC-AI Game Plan

November 25, 2019

It’s probably fair to say IBM is known for big bets. Summit supercomputer – a big win. Red Hat acquisition – looking like a big win. OpenPOWER and Power processors – jury’s out? At SC19, long-time IBMer Dave Turek sketched out a different kind of bet for Big Blue – a small ball strategy, if you’ll forgive the baseball analogy... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Cray, Fujitsu Both Bringing Fujitsu A64FX-based Supercomputers to Market in 2020

November 12, 2019

The number of top-tier HPC systems makers has shrunk due to a steady march of M&A activity, but there is increased diversity and choice of processing compon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Crystal Ball Gazing: IBM’s Vision for the Future of Computing

October 14, 2019

Dario Gil, IBM’s relatively new director of research, painted a intriguing portrait of the future of computing along with a rough idea of how IBM thinks we’ Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Debuts New GPU – Ponte Vecchio – and Outlines Aspirations for oneAPI

November 17, 2019

Intel today revealed a few more details about its forthcoming Xe line of GPUs – the top SKU is named Ponte Vecchio and will be used in Aurora, the first plann Read more…

By John Russell

Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber, Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

Dell Ramps Up HPC Testing of AMD Rome Processors

October 21, 2019

Dell Technologies is wading deeper into the AMD-based systems market with a growing evaluation program for the latest Epyc (Rome) microprocessors from AMD. In a Read more…

By John Russell

SC19: Welcome to Denver

November 17, 2019

A significant swath of the HPC community has come to Denver for SC19, which began today (Sunday) with a rich technical program. As is customary, the ribbon cutt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

When Dense Matrix Representations Beat Sparse

September 9, 2019

In our world filled with unintended consequences, it turns out that saving memory space to help deal with GPU limitations, knowing it introduces performance pen Read more…

By James Reinders

With the Help of HPC, Astronomers Prepare to Deflect a Real Asteroid

September 26, 2019

For years, NASA has been running simulations of asteroid impacts to understand the risks (and likelihoods) of asteroids colliding with Earth. Now, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing for the next, crucial step in planetary defense against asteroid impacts: physically deflecting a real asteroid. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This