Examining the properties of black holes is not precisely the easiest thing in the world to do. In fact, one may argue that it's pretty difficult, considering that there is no way of probing them directly. They would engulf any spacecraft we send in their vicinity, and they also bend and swallow light, which means that we can't assess them using spectrometers or other such scientific instruments. Using computer simulations and algorithms is the only way to study these behemoths of the skies, some of which can hold entire galaxies in one place.
Recently, experts at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) received a number of grants to boost their own supercomputer and also user hours at two of the most advanced supercomputers in the world, in order to conduct their groundbreaking black hole research. “It is a thrilling time to study black holes. We're nearing the point where our calculations will be used to test out one of the last unexplored aspects of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, possibly confirming that it properly describes the strongest gravitational fields in the Universe,” the RIT Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation Director, Manuela Campanelli, says.
“Computers are only going to get bigger and faster over the coming years, and with these grants and allocations, RIT's numerical relativity group should stay at the forefront of scientific computation for years to come,” the expert adds. The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has just awarded three grants to the center, totaling more than $2.9 million, over a period of three years. In addition to the money, the team also received 3.5 million CPU (computing processing unit) hours at the Ranger supercomputer, housed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center in Austin.
The Center also won time on the Blue Waters supercomputer, through the NSF Petascale Computing Resource Allocation grant. The machine is scheduled to go online in 2011, and will feature 200,000 processing cores. It is estimated that it will be the most advanced and complex, open, scientific research supercomputer in the world once completed. It will be hosted by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, at the University of Illinois.
The NSF also funds the development of the Community Infrastructure for General Relativistic Hydrodynamics, a cyberinfrastructure that will enable the scientists at RIT to model black holes, neutron stars and accretion disks at their whim. The team will also study the most energetic events in the Universe, such as millisecond-long bursts of gamma-rays and active galactic nuclei (AGN). The latter constantly emit as much radiation as a trillion suns.