The mother-of-pearl supercomputer at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Berkeley Lab
To hunt for one of the most mysterious forces in the universe, you need a powerful computer. Soon the hunt for dark energy will be aided by a next-generation supercomputer that will help a project create the most detailed 3D map of the universe yet.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the new mother-of-pearl supercomputer, recently installed at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center in Berkeley, California, will begin work on the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) research project this summer. The project aims to learn more about dark energy, a hypothetical type of energy that makes up a whopping 68% of the universe. To do this, the DESI instrument at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona observes the night sky with 5,000 spectroscopic “eyes” that record the light of 35 million galaxies.
To analyze all of this data, the researchers use the mother-of-pearl supercomputer. Named after Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter, the computer is a significant improvement over the laboratory’s previous supercomputer, Cori, and is expected to achieve 100 PetaFLOPS processing power.
Perlmutter will use artificial intelligence to identify significant objects in the DESI data, then other applications can calculate the distance between these objects. By observing the effects of gravity on a very large scale, researchers can get clues about the expansion of the universe and learn about dark energy from it.
That’s because dark energy is something that we know exists because of the way the universe expands. Scientists have long known that the universe is expanding, but research with the Hubble Space Telescope in the 1990s showed that the rate of this expansion did not slow down, as would be expected based on gravity, but actually accelerated. This is the riddle: there is an unknown force pushing galaxies outward, and this force we call dark energy. To understand it better, we need to track objects far away, such as galaxies or quasars, and map their distance.
To this end, the DESI project wants to create a 3D map of the sky that is far more detailed than any other 3D map created so far. “This allows us to look further back into the history of the universe and into a time that has never been explored before [at high precision] for dark energy studies, ”said Aaron Meisner, a research fellow at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, told the WSJ.
DESI is expected to begin its five-year survey later this year.