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Modeling Supernovae With a Supercomputer

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the fight-super-with-super dept.

Supercomputing 64

A team of scientists at the University of Chicago will be using 22 million processor-hours to simulate the physics of exploding stars. The team will make use of the Blue Gene/P supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory to analyze four different scenarios for type Ia supernovae. Included in the link is a video simulation of a thermonuclear flame busting its way out of a white dwarf. The processing time was made possible by the Department of Energy's INCITE program. "Burning in a white dwarf can occur as a deflagration or as a detonation. 'Imagine a pool of gasoline and throw a match on it. That kind of burning across the pool of gasoline is a deflagration,' Jordan said. 'A detonation is simply if you were to light a stick of dynamite and allow it to explode.' In the Flash Center scenario, deflagration starts off-center of the star's core. The burning creates a hot bubble of less dense ash that pops out the side due to buoyancy, like a piece of Styrofoam submerged in water."

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flawed (0, Flamebait)

palewook (1101845) | more than 6 years ago | (#23291794)

we understand little about it and the math formula used will be a half guess. supercomputer or not, results will be speculative at best.

Yes, but does it run Windows? (0, Troll)

willeyhill (1277478) | more than 6 years ago | (#23291828)

The burning explosion analogy is hard to follow. Is Yahoo's escape like a giant flame out and Vista's implosion like a piece of styrofoam that pops out of the side due to buoyancy? How many hours did it take to simulate Microsoft's supernova? Will most of the mass be thrown off leaving a devastated solar system with a dark core, or will it become a black hole?

Re:Yes, but does it run Windows? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23292408)

I'm Twitter and I endorse this post.

Re:flawed (1)

sadgoblin (1269500) | more than 6 years ago | (#23291866)

Better than nothing, I guess...

Re:flawed (1)

chanrobi (944359) | more than 6 years ago | (#23291962)

Which is why it's called a simulation. Who the heck modded this insightful?

Re:flawed (4, Informative)

Aranykai (1053846) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292000)

Probably someone who actually knows what simulation means.

Simulation is something which simulates a system or environment in order to predict actual behavior.

To speculate on the other hand is to make an inference based on inconclusive evidence; to surmise or conjecture.

So, he was indeed insightful when he stated that the lack of understanding would render the results speculative at best.

(all definitions courtesy of wikitionary)

Re:flawed (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23292130)

Well, I'm a pyromaniac and I consider this stimulation.

Re:flawed (4, Interesting)

DeadChobi (740395) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292208)

You guys are missing the point of the modeling. You don't always model something to make predictions of its actual behavior. In this case modeling serves as an excellent way to test our models against empirical data collected from observations of supernovae. So, we do our best to construct a model, then compare this model to the real system in order to expose holes in our understanding of the phenomenon. This is good science.

Re:flawed (1)

Screaming Cactus (1230848) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292842)

Agreed, I don't understand why more people don't see that. It's through simulations like these that we test our theories about the universe. Wasn't it computer simulations of galaxies that led to the discovery of dark matter? If we already perfectly understood the physics of supernovae, there would be no need to run the simulation in the first place.

Re:flawed (1)

cheeseboy001 (986317) | more than 6 years ago | (#23296972)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't we not actually found any dark matter yet?

Re:flawed (2, Insightful)

Screaming Cactus (1230848) | more than 6 years ago | (#23297542)

"the phenomenon that the majority of the gravitational effects within galaxies are unaccounted for, but are now commonly attributed to some kind of 'invisible matter'" just seemed like too much to write. Alas, I ended up writing it anyway.

Re:flawed (1)

PingPongBoy (303994) | more than 6 years ago | (#23301618)

Just wondering if this will lead to an alternative energy source, like building a dwarf star under the hood. That would cost about as much as a tank of gas anyways.

Re:flawed (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292332)

So if you have a model and you run what you think is a simulation and then it turns out that the prediction from your model was incorrect, you should have been calling your simulation speculation?

How is that not just hair splitting semantics?

Re:flawed (4, Insightful)

hazem (472289) | more than 6 years ago | (#23293352)

There are several steps in constructing useful models and the last, and most controversial is that of "model validation".

In building a computer model/simulation, you generally follow these steps:

1) problem formulation - what do you want to figure out, gather data, get the "reference behavior pattern"
2) formulate a mental model of the system - what are the entities involved and how are they related
3) build and debug your model
4) verification - this is where you ensure the model behaves as expected against specific sets of inputs - as you change inputs, does it do what you expect (I turn up the volume knob - and the sound gets louder)

5) validation - this is where you compare the results of the model with the reference data from the real world. If it doesn't match, you then have to back up and figure out what's wrong... was the implementation of the model incorrect? were your initial hypotheses incorrect? And if it does match, have you gathered enough real world data to know your model is functioning well? How confident are you of this model's ability to model the system you're interested in.

So suppose you've built a model that you can validate against gathered data, you still have to demonstrate that your model is valuable to the scientific community.

You're probably going out on a limb to make strong assertions when a model demonstrates/predicts behavior that has not been observed. However, it can serve a great role in helping determine what other things to look for, what conditions may exist, or help see relationships that you may not have seen before.

The controversy is over how much you can use a model to help prove a hypothesis.

Pfft (1)

Icarium (1109647) | more than 6 years ago | (#23299666)

Hookers are cheaper than models, and almost always do what you expect!

Re:flawed (1)

palewook (1101845) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292936)

troll much?

Re:flawed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23292986)

Actually, you are completely wrong. We DO understand type IA supernovas very well. If we didn't, then pretty much everything we know about the size of the universe would be incorrect. Type IA's have almost identical characteristics in each explosion which makes them perfect for using as "standard candles" to gauge distances. This is what makes them a prime target for creating simulations. Since we understand them with a decent thoroughness, creating a simulation against them is completely possible. From this simulation we can then learn which will assist in creating simulations for less understood phenomena.

Re:flawed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23295996)

Come on, man. You can't define a word using the SAME WORD! A simulation is a re-creation, in physical or theoretical space, of a given occurance based on observed and/or deduced rules of mechanics of said situation. And for the sake of accuracy, don't use Wikipedia for anything other than trivia; ANYONE can write ANYTHING on that site! I take it you've never written a (good) research paper.

Re:flawed (2, Informative)

jr-slash (904487) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292200)

You are also testing the math formula with this, if the visualized model looks different to what can be seen in nature, the formula is flawed. If it looks similar to nature it probably is a good model.

Re:flawed (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292212)

there wouldn't be any point in simulating this if we knew everything about them. it's a step on to better understanding of what is going on.

Re:flawed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23292344)

Isn't that the point?

We know what actually happens (visibly) as the end result of a supernova.

Regardless of the math, IF the simulation causes the same end result, then it's useful. The complexity of an expanding supernova (or simulation thereof) would preclude any bad simulation from resulting in the same end state. If the same end state can be achieved, then the simulation was a success.

Re:flawed (4, Informative)

pclminion (145572) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292428)

we understand little about it and the math formula used will be a half guess. supercomputer or not, results will be speculative at best.

I don't think you understand how experiments work... If the results of the computations are something other than what is observed in nature, then the methods and/or equations are proven wrong. That is most certainly a NON-speculative result.

Just because the model shows a burst of star stuff blowing out this way or that way in some particular configuration doesn't mean that scientists will leap up from their chairs and say "Stars do this, and we've proven it."

You can never know if your models are correct. All you can do is continually test them and try to prove them wrong. Maxwell's equations have not been proven to be correct -- they've just never been shown to be wrong. This simulation is just a step on the path of evidence.

Re:flawed (1)

palewook (1101845) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292948)

"I don't think you understand how experiments work" sounds like you are making an assumption as well

Re:flawed (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 6 years ago | (#23300642)

"I don't think you understand how experiments work" sounds like you are making an assumption as well

I'm not assuming anything. I've formed a model based on the evidence.

Re:flawed (3, Interesting)

madboson (649658) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292970)

we understand little about it and the math formula used will be a half guess. supercomputer or not, results will be speculative at best.
There is a big difference between guessing at some thing and hoping for the best, verses a systematic analysis of a problem using all the available knowledge that man has right now. Yeah, sounds like a sugar coating on exactly the same thing but come on and think about it. Science is mix a little ingenuity in with previously known facts and a healthy dose of self cynicism. It's the self defeatist attitude like this that hampers progress.

Not to mention several "PhD life spans" probably were spent on even programming this model and testing it in every way possible. No this is not speculative at best, this is a huge opportunity to actually test what we know against reality which is the point of this kind of theoretical science! Now if you please some of us have science to get back to, your welcome to continue to yell foul from as far away as possible.

Re:flawed (1)

SL Baur (19540) | more than 6 years ago | (#23293168)

Can you imagine a Beowolf Cluster of these things?

"The Argonne Blue Gene/P supercomputer is one of the largest and fastest supercomputers in the world," said Fisher, a Flash Center Research Scientist. "It has massive computational resources that are not available on smaller platforms elsewhere." Desktop computers typically contain only one or two processors; Blue Gene/P has more than 160,000 processors. What a desktop computer could accomplish in a thousand years, the Blue Gene/P supercomputer can perform in three days.
Oh wait ...

Re:flawed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23293584)

we understand little about it and the math formula used will be a half guess. supercomputer or not, results will be speculative at best.
And how is that different from computer simulations that "prove" global warming?

By questioning a simulation in space, you get modded "Insightful". But when one questions climate simulations on Earth, Slashsheep mod "flamebait" or "troll".

with a computer? (5, Funny)

nih (411096) | more than 6 years ago | (#23291972)

blimey, i was expecting them to use prayer, because that has been proven to work unlike these so called 'computers', which according to Ben Stein the nazi's used

Re:with a computer? (1)

Dirtside (91468) | more than 6 years ago | (#23294826)

Hm, Stein's Corollary to Godwin's Law: Anything the Nazis did, used, or believed in is evil.

Kaboom (1)

Reader X (906979) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292010)

Imagine a pool of gasoline and throw a match on it.

like a piece of Styrofoam submerged in water

Now I know what to do with myself on this slow Sunday morning.

Re:Kaboom (1)

NemoinSpace (1118137) | more than 6 years ago | (#23296268)

ok, but don't try the other.

'A detonation is simply if you were to light a stick of dynamite and allow it to explode.'
At least till they figure out how to simulate lighting a stick of dynamite and *NOT* allowing it to explode?
Even then, I wouldn't test the results empirically.

They need to get Michael Bay involved.. (3, Funny)

DanWS6 (1248650) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292016)

I bet he could make a neater looking explosion without the use of a super computer. It'd even have audio!

Re:They need to get Michael Bay involved.. (1)

iknowcss (937215) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292714)

Hey, the linked video DOES have audio! It's in space for christ sake!

crysis (1)

conan1989 (1142827) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292090)

maybe, just maybe, it might pack enough grunt to play crysis

it would be interesting....... (1)

slydmin (1209456) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292202)

....to see the BlueGene explode in flames from all the complicated calculations....hope to see this on youtube!

Modeled it at home for forty-seven cents... (1)

Doctor Memory (6336) | more than 6 years ago | (#23296488)

I modeled a Type 1A at home by taking an old 74LS00 IC and hooking power and ground up to a neon light power supply. I yelled "Don't cross the streams!" and flipped the switch. Glowing fragments flew in all directions, proving the inversion of the event horizon and validating my work in the field of glowing-particle physics.

There seems to be some quantum effect component also, because right after the simulation, my landlady appeared and went supernova too!

Man that's a big frickin' zit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23292264)

...and one hell of a satisfying pop.

saw this on tv (2, Informative)

lucky130 (267588) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292306)

A little over a third of the way through s02e09 of The Universe here [tv.com] has these guys talking about their simulation.

honest question (1)

sunwolf (853208) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292404)

What are processor-hours, exactly? I don't think it's utilization of the supercomputer for x-amount of hours, since that would mean they've booked the computer for almost 42 years.

Re:honest question (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23292566)

From TFA: "Blue Gene/P has more than 160,000 processors."

BTW, 22 million hours = 2500 years, not 42 years.

Re:honest question (3, Informative)

pclminion (145572) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292614)

A processor-hour is a single processor being utilized for an hour. This supercomputer has a lot of processors (as do all supercomputers, really).

Re:honest question (1)

Digi-John (692918) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292708)

They said 22,000,000 hours on a 160,000 processor computer. That comes down to about 5.7 days.

Dont need a supercomputer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23292694)

to see stars explode [eonline.com]

!news (2, Interesting)

Screaming Cactus (1230848) | more than 6 years ago | (#23292890)

I thought this story sounded familiar. Then I clicked the link, and lo and behold, there's the exact same video I remembered watching a year ago. I double checked -- the video was dated March of 2007. So why is this just now making headlines? I could understand if they re-ran the simulation with new physics that proved to be more accurate or something, but why link to the old video?

Re:!news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23293280)

Just because the video is old doesn't mean that the story is old. The story is dated May 1, 2008. So it looks like they've just now booked the required time on a supercomputer to run the simulation.

Super (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23293190)

"Modeling Supernovae With a Supercomputer"

- a step up from modeling regular novae with a regular computer.

So.... (1)

Kierthos (225954) | more than 6 years ago | (#23293204)

was I the only one who initially read the headline as "Modeling Supermodels with a Supercomputer"?

Re:So.... (1)

hoopshank (1113275) | more than 6 years ago | (#23293786)

was I the only one who initially read the headline as "Modeling Supermodels with a Supercomputer"?
Yes

Re:So.... (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 6 years ago | (#23294260)

No. I was also thinking of supermodels after the headline.

Re:So.... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23295140)

modeling with supercomputers should be called "supermodeling" from now on

"Stuff that matters?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23293308)

How is this worth a story?

For one thing, scientists and engineers have been using computers to run simulations of complex systems for a long time now, and are doing so constantly. Federal labs' supercomputers haven't just been sitting around idle, you know - those labs bought them as a tool to get things done, not as pretty art exhibits or for getting on supercomputer lists so they can read about them on slashdot. The fact that the computer is being used for that intended purpose hardly seems newsworthy, any more than "Denver International Airport LANDED SOME PLANES TODAY FROM THE SKY WHERE THEYWERE FLYING!"

Computing in Cloud (3, Informative)

JavaGenosse (1174861) | more than 6 years ago | (#23293370)

I think Scientific Modeling in a compute cloud is more sexy, since it is way cheaper than 42 millions of processor hours and allows spikes. If one doesn't see differences between lab grid and cloud, go read wikipedia or http://groups.google.ca/group/cloud-computing/browse_thread/thread/73e1030b18df3730?hl=en [google.ca]

Re:Computing in Cloud (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#23301524)

That's just fine provided you don't need fast (or really, any) interprocess communication. Not all problems work that way.

Re:Computing in Cloud (1)

JavaGenosse (1174861) | more than 6 years ago | (#23301718)

Yeah I agree, latency might be terrible and can kill some MPI or like jobs. But for independent jobs it is perfect and cheap to overflow to cloud.

Re:Computing in Cloud (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 6 years ago | (#23302998)

There are a few applications, like SETI that work that way. A lot don't. This is one of them. Someone else mentioned that this project uses a multibody problem algorithm. Multibody problems are tightly integrated. Not only latency, but synchronization issues mean you have to use a dedicated machine.

Architecture, language, details? (1)

munro (265830) | more than 6 years ago | (#23293968)

Does anyone have any implementation level details about this? I'd love to hear what the software approach is, what programming language they'll be working in, how the parallelism will be handled, what sorts of problems are involved etc etc etc. We come here for news for nerds (well, cool graphics are OK too, but...)

Re:Architecture, language, details? (3, Informative)

mikael (484) | more than 6 years ago | (#23296056)

If you visit the webpages of the various research departments related to visualisation and parallel processing, then you can find many research papers related to this and other topics:

A study of parallel techniques for visualisation [ucdavis.edu] .

A parallel visualization pipeline for Terascale earthquake simulation [ucdavis.edu]

Scientific Discovery through Advanced Visualization [ucdavis.edu]

A case study in Supernovae Simulation Data [uchicago.edu]

It's just amazing to find out how much is going on inside a star - not just the fusion of Hydrogen and Helium atoms, but intense magnetic fields that drive rivers of liquid Hydrogen and Helium through rising and falling convection cells, which in turn create new magnetic fields.

Re:Architecture, language, details? (4, Informative)

transonic_shock (1024205) | more than 6 years ago | (#23296384)

I had looked at ther work month ago when researching on writing my own N-body code. So, basically this is an implementation of Fast multipole Method (used in N-body computaion). Tradationaly (or rather in it's naive form) N-body codes are of the order N^2. Fast multipole algorithm (and Barnes-Hut and multitudes of their derivatives) does this at NLogN or better. You can have various kinds physical phenomenon occuring between two bodies/particles/points (graviational, electromagnetic etc) and this problem solves the physics for millions (or billions of such particles making up a supernovae) The entire 3d space is broken down into a oct-tree. You can traverse down to a group of particles (or one particle in Barnes-Hut), and traverse up calculating the force. The basic idea is to make a group of particles a large distance act like a single particle when calculating it's potential on another particle. Mind you the particle here is really a loose definition. It's really the most granular subdivion of space you could afford to calculate. Hence the need for bigger computers for better accuracy. The parallelism is MPI based. It's simpler to handle parallelism for nbody stuff compared to eulerian grid type problems.

Re:Architecture, language, details? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23297864)

the code they are using, flash code, is not a simple n-body code. the flash code is a multi-physics, adaptive mesh, eularian hydrodynamics code. you may want to do a better job on your homework before posting.

p.s. - i'm one of the original authors of the flash code.

Exploding Novas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23294626)

I once simulated an exploding ChevyNova with a 433 Celeron, but it took, like, 35 days to render.

Use Those Excess Cycles (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#23295350)

With all the excess CPU cycles coming on-line every year now, it's nice to see some significant uses for them.

We just need continually improving ways to make those excess cycles available.

Superfluous Supercomment (1)

Nautical Insanity (1190003) | more than 6 years ago | (#23296460)

"Modeling Supernovae with a Supercomputer controlled by the Aperture Science Supercolliding Superbutton"

with a Supercomputer? (1)

stymyx (862298) | more than 6 years ago | (#23296918)

And here I thought that supernovae would be modeled by a supermodel.

Every so often the star seems to... (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 6 years ago | (#23306448)

...stop 'exploding', do a 360 degree revolution, and carry on exploding. Are the physicists sure they have this right? I don't think that kind of process could preserve angular momentum, not to mention the vast amounts of energy that seem to be held at bay for significant periods of time.
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