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Black holes grow faster than expected

Artist's impression of a black hole about to devour a star

Artist’s impression of a black hole about to devour a star. Supermassive black holes are thought to be at the heart of all major galaxies. Australian researchers have determined that as a galaxy grows, its black hole grows even faster.

  • Supermassive black holes have up to billions of times more mass than the Sun
  • How they became this big has been a long-standing mystery
  • Australia research shows big galaxies breed even bigger black holes

ASTRONOMERS FROM SWINBURNE UNIVERSITY of Technology in Australia have discovered how supermassive black holes grow – and it’s not what was expected.

For years, scientists had believed that supermassive black holes – millions or billions of times the mass of our Sun – located at the centres of galaxies, increased their mass in step with the growth of their host galaxy.  However, new observations have revealed a dramatically different behaviour.

“Black holes have been growing much faster than we thought,” Professor Alister Graham from Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing said.

Within galaxies, there is a competition of sorts for the available gas; for either the formation of new stars or feeding the central black hole.

For more than a decade the leading models and theories have assigned a fixed fraction of the gas to each process, effectively preserving the ratio of black hole mass to galaxy mass. New research to be published in The Astrophysical Journal reveals that this approach needs to be changed.

“We now know that each ten-fold increase of a galaxy’s stellar mass is associated with a much larger 100-fold increase in its black hole mass,” Professor Graham said. “This has widespread implications for our understanding of galaxy and black hole co-evolution.”

The following animation depicts a star being devoured by a black hole.

Unexpected behaviour

The researchers have also found the opposite behaviour to exist among the tightly packed clusters of stars that are observed at the centres of smaller galaxies and in disc galaxies like our Milky Way.

“The smaller the galaxy, the greater the fraction of stars in these dense, compact clusters,” Swinburne researcher Dr Nicholas Scott said. “In the lower mass galaxies the star clusters, which can contain up to millions of stars, really dominate over the black holes.”

Previously it was thought that the star clusters contained a constant 0.2 per cent of the galaxy mass.

Black holes = gravitational prisons

The research also appears to have solved a long-standing mystery in astronomy. ‘Intermediate mass’ black holes with masses between that of a single star and one million stars have been remarkably elusive.

The new research predicts that numerous galaxies already known to harbour a black hole – albeit of a currently unknown mass – should contain these missing `intermediate mass’ black holes.

Artist's impression of a black hole in a star field

Intermediate or middle-sized black holes have proved elusive (artist’s impression).

“These may be big enough to be seen by the new generation of extremely large telescopes,” Dr Scott said.

Professor Graham said these black holes were still capable of readily devouring any stars and their potential planets if they ventured too close.

“Black holes are effectively gravitational prisons and compactors, and this may have been the fate of many past solar systems,” Professor Graham said. “Indeed, such a cosmic dance will contribute at some level to the transformation of nuclear star clusters into massive black holes.”

The researchers combined observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, the European Very Large Telescope in Chile and the Keck Telescope in Hawaii to create the largest sample to date of galaxies with reliable star cluster and supermassive black hole mass measurements.

Adapted from information issued by Swinburne University of Technology. Images by Gabriel Perez Diaz.

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‘The Dish’ finds a ‘diamond planet’

Artist's visualisation of the pulsar and its orbiting planet

An artist's visualisation of the pulsar and its orbiting planet, which astronomers think could be made partly of diamond or a diamond-like substance. The blue squiggly line represents the beams of radio waves emanating from the pulsar. The orange bubble represents the size of the Sun, showing that the the planet's orbit has about the same radius as the Sun (about 600,000 km), yet it whizzes around in just two hours!

  • Planet detected orbiting a pulsar 4,000 light-years away
  • It’s actually the remnant core of what was once a star
  • Probably made of compressed carbon—diamond!

ASTRONOMERS USING ‘THE DISH’—CSIRO’s radio telescope near Parkes, NSW—believe they’ve found a small planet made of diamond, orbiting an unusual star.

The discovery was made by an international research team, led by Professor Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, and is reported today in the journal Science.

“Although bizarre, this planet is evidence that we’ve got the right understanding of how these binary systems evolve,” said Dr Michael Keith of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, one of the research team members.

Not fitting the pattern

The researchers, from Australia, Germany, Italy, the UK and the USA, first found an unusual star called a pulsar, now named PSR J1719-1438, using the 64-m Parkes radio telescope in eastern Australia.

Pulsars are small spinning stars about 20 km in diameter—the size of a small city—that emit a beam of radio waves. As the star spins and the radio beam sweeps repeatedly over Earth, radio telescopes detect a regular pattern of radio pulses.

The researchers followed up their discovery with the Lovell radio telescope in the UK and one of the Keck telescopes in Hawaii, and noticed that the arrival times of the pulsar’s pulses were systematically altered—in a way that must be caused by the gravitational pull of a small planet orbiting the pulsar.

The CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope

The CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope

Small, heavy and fast

The modulations of the radio pulses reveal several things about the planet.

First, it orbits the pulsar in just two hours and ten minutes, and the distance between the two objects is 600,000 km—a little less than the radius of our Sun.

Second, the companion must be small, less than 60,000 km (that’s about five times the Earth’s diameter). The planet is so close to the pulsar that, if it were any bigger, it would be ripped apart by the pulsar’s gravity.

But despite its small size, the planet has slightly more mass than Jupiter.

A stripped-down dwarf

“This high density of the planet provides a clue to its origin,” Professor Bailes said.

The team thinks that the ‘diamond planet’ is all that remains of a once-massive star, most of whose matter was siphoned off towards the pulsar.

But pulsar J1719-1438 and its companion are so close together that the companion can only be a very stripped-down ‘white dwarf’ star, one that has lost its outer layers and over 99.9 per cent of its original mass.

“This remnant is likely to be largely carbon and oxygen, because a star made of lighter elements like hydrogen and helium would be too big to fit the measured orbit,” said CSIRO’s Dr Keith.

The density means that this material is certain to be crystalline—that is, a large part of the star may be similar to a diamond.

The pulsar and its planet lie 4,000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (the Snake). The system is about an eighth of the way towards the Galactic Centre from the Earth.

Diamond planet Easy Q&A

What have they found?

  • They’ve spotted a system that comprises a weird kind of star, called a pulsar, and a medium-sized planet that is probably made of almost pure carbon…which is most likely in the form of diamond or a diamond-like substance.
  • The system is 4,000 light-years from Earth—that’s 40 thousand trillion kilometres away!
  • The pulsar emits radio waves in a regular pattern as it spins, like a lighthouse, which is what the CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope picked up.
  • The planet itself cannot be seen as it is too small and too far away.

If they can’t see the planet, how do they know it’s really there?

  • Its presence is inferred by the distorting effect it has on the pulsar’s powerful radio emissions.
  • It whizzes around its star in just two hours (compared to one year for Earth around the Sun).
  • The data was analysed using an incredible supercomputer at Swinburne University in Melbourne.
  • The planet is about 5 times as wide as the Earth, but much, much heavier.

So why do they think it is made of diamond?

  • Now here’s the interesting bit, because the planet actually seems to be the dense, remnant core of a star, rather than a traditional planet.
  • Many stars, as they burn up their hydrogen fuel, end up having cores made of carbon.
  • The star changed into a planet, with only it’s core remaining.

How did it change from a star into a planet?

  • Because the pulsar has a huge gravitational pull and is a cosmic cannibal!
  • The pulsar and the other star would have been orbiting very close to each other.
  • The pulsar would have pulled all the outer gas layers off the other star—99.9 percent of its mass—eventually leaving it with just its carbon core.
  • If we could have seen it happening, it would have looked like a huge whirlpool of gas coming off the doomed star and spiralling onto the neighbouring pulsar.

What do astronomers hope to learn from these types of star systems?

  • For one thing, pulsars are the “end points”—the dying stages—in the lives of many kinds of big stars, so learning more about them tells us about the evolution and life cycle of those stars and the wider universe.
  • But pulsars also are important for understanding and testing laws of physics.
  • Astronomers can use them as “natural laboratories” for testing theories, such as Einstein’s theory of gravity.
  • That’s because you can only go so far testing some theories in the laboratory—to really put them to the test, you need to study massive objects travelling at high speed, and that’s what pulsar systems are.

Main text adapted from information issued by CSIRO. Q&A by Jonathan Nally, Images courtesy Swinburne Astronomy Productions and David McClenaghan, CSIRO.

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It’s official – dark energy is real!

Visualisation of dark energy

Cosmic wrestling match. In this artist's visualisation, dark energy is represented in purple and gravity in green. Dark energy is a uniform force that now dominates over the effects of gravity in the cosmos. Courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech.

A SURVEY OF MORE THAN 200,000 GALAXIES led by Australian astronomers has shown that ‘dark energy’ is real and not a mistake in Einstein’s theory of gravity.

The finding is conveyed in two papers led by Dr Chris Blake from Swinburne University’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, which will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Using the Anglo-Australian Telescope, 26 astronomers contributed to the ‘WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey’ that mapped the distribution of galaxies over an unprecedented volume of the Universe.

Because light takes so long to reach Earth, it was the equivalent of looking seven billion years back in time—more than half way back to the Big Bang.

The survey, which took four years to complete, aimed to measure the properties of ‘dark energy’ a concept first cast by Einstein in his original Theory of General Relativity. The scientist included the idea in his original equations, but later changed his mind, calling the inclusion “his greatest blunder”.

However, in the late 1990s when astronomers began to realise that the Universe was expanding at an accelerating rate, the concept of ‘dark energy’ was revived. This was done by measuring the brightness of distant supernovae—exploding stars.

Diagram illustrating cosmic standard candles and standard rulers

This diagram illustrates two methods that astronomers use to measure how fast the universe is expanding—the "standard candle" method, which involves studying exploded stars in galaxies, and the "standard ruler" method, which involves studying the distances between pairs of galaxies. Courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech.

“The acceleration was a shocking discovery, because it showed we have a lot more to learn about physics,” Dr Blake said. “Astronomers began to think that Einstein’s blunder wasn’t a blunder at all, and that the Universe really was filled with a new kind of energy that was causing it to expand at an increasing speed.”

Einstein vindicated

The WiggleZ (pronounces ‘wiggles’) project has now used two other kinds of observations to provide an independent check on the supernovae results. One measured the pattern of how galaxies are distributed in space and the other measured how quickly clusters of galaxies formed over time.

Both tests have confirmed the reality of dark energy.

“WiggleZ says dark energy is real,” said Dr Blake. “Einstein remains untoppled.”

According to Professor Warrick Couch, Director of Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, confirming the existence of the anti-gravity agent is a significant step forward in understanding the Universe.

“Although the exact physics required to explain dark energy still remains a mystery, knowing that dark energy exists has advanced astronomers’ understanding of the origin, evolution and fate of the Universe,” he said.

According to one of the survey’s leaders, Professor Michael Drinkwater from the University of Queensland, the researchers have broken new ground. “This is the first individual galaxy survey to span such a long stretch of cosmic time,” he said.

The WiggleZ observations were possible due to a powerful spectrograph attached to the Anglo-Australian Telescope. The spectrograph was able to make measurements at the super-efficient rate of 392 galaxies an hour, despite the galaxies being located halfway to the edge of the observable Universe.

“WiggleZ has been a success because we have an instrument attached to the telescope, a spectrograph, that is one of the best in the world for large galaxy surveys of this kind,” said Professor Matthew Colless, director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

The WiggleZ survey involved 18 Australian astronomers, including 10 from Swinburne University of Technology. It was led by Dr Chris Blake, Professor Warrick Couch and Professor Karl Glazebrook from Swinburne and Professor Michael Drinkwater from the University of Queensland.

Adapted from information issued by AAO / Swinburne University of Technology.

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Top astronomer joins Aussie uni

A spiral galaxy

Swinburne University's newest astronomy professor, Jeremy Mould, is a specialist in the hunt for the universe's 'dark matter'.

SWINBURNE UNIVERSITY’S REPUTATION as a world leader in astronomy research has been cemented, with the arrival of pre-eminent astrophysicist Professor Jeremy Mould.

A recipient of the prestigious Gruber Prize for Cosmology, Professor Mould is a ‘Hi-Ci’ researcher, putting him in the world’s top 0.5 per cent of cited researchers in the astronomy and space sciences field.

Professor Mould is Swinburne’s third Hi-Ci astronomy researcher, joining Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing Director, Professor Warrick Couch and galaxy expert Professor Karl Glazebrook.

With only ten active Hi-Ci astronomy researchers in all of Australia, this represents a significant cluster of world-leading experts at the one institution.

Professor Couch said that the centre’s newest arrival, who has come from the University of Melbourne, is one of the most respected researchers in the field of cosmology.

Professor Jeremy Mould

Professor Jeremy Mould

“Jeremy has an incredible record of achievement in astronomy research and management and we are extremely excited to have him on board,” he said.

“When it comes to leaders in his field, Jeremy really is the king of the castle.”

Focus on dark matter

Professor Mould is best known for his role in determining the precise value of the Hubble Constant, one of the most important numbers in astronomy.

This finding effectively determined the age of the universe (about 14 billion years), and has since enabled researchers to more accurately investigate other profound questions about the universe’s birth, evolution and composition.

As well as being a Hi-Ci researcher and recipient of the Gruber Prize, Professor Mould is also a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and a previous Director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University and US National Optical Astronomy Observatories.

He is a chief investigator in the Australian Research Council’s new Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics and leads its programme on the hunt for the mysterious dark matter. How dark matter is distributed on billion light year scales is his current focus. CSIRO’s new radiotelescope in WA is the key to this, together with the ANU’s new optical survey telescope at Siding Spring Observatory.

His arrival bolsters Swinburne’s place as one of the world’s leading astronomy research institutions.

In the Australian Research Council’s recent Excellence for Research in Australia report, Swinburne was awarded a five rating in the Astronomical Space Sciences category, recognising outstanding research that is well above world standard.

Adapted from information issued by Swinburne University.

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Giant galaxies are like ‘snowflakes’

Galaxy NGC1407

Galaxies might form in a manner similar to snowflakes. The research was based on observations of the massive elliptical galaxy NGC1407, one of the largest galaxies in the southern skies with over 10 billion stars.

GIANT GALAXIES that contain billions of stars are born in much the same way as delicate snowflakes, new research from Swinburne University of Technology has shown.

In a paper accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Professor Duncan Forbes has provided the first direct evidence to support a theory of galaxy formation that he has likened to the birth of a snowflake.

Forbes, with the help of international collaborators, analysed data from three different telescopes in order to help confirm this galaxy formation theory proposed last year by German astronomer Ludwig Oser and his colleagues.

“What we’ve found is that galaxies form in two phases. Firstly, an inner region of stars is formed from collapsing gas. This region then acts as a core, or ‘seed’, around which the galaxy grows as the result of stars which are acquired from other smaller galaxies,” he said.

According to Professor Jean Brodie from the University of California, “our work provides some of the best evidence for this inside-out build up of giant galaxies.”

What intrigued the astronomers was the similarity between this inside-out process for giant galaxy formation and the way that snowflakes are formed.

“Snowflake formation requires a ‘seed’ to get it started. In the case of snowflakes, that ‘seed’ is a microscopic dust grain. Having a core from which to build upon is comparable to the formation of a giant galaxy,” Forbes said.

“Then, in much the same way as water vapour accumulates to grow the snowflake, small galaxies and their stars are accreted onto the galaxy core.”Keck telescopes in Hawaii

Big telescopes study big galaxies

The astronomers based their conclusions on observations of the massive elliptical galaxy NGC1407, one of the largest galaxies in the southern skies with over 10 billion stars.

They made their observations using two giant telescopes in Hawaii—the 8.2-metre Subaru and the 10-metre Keck, the largest optical telescope in the world. They also included data collected from the Hubble Space Telescope.

“Our data came from three of the world’s premier telescopes, and in each case it supported the ‘snowflake theory’ of galaxy formation,” Forbes said. “This means we can be very confident in our findings.”

Observations at the Keck telescope are made possible thanks to Swinburne’s agreement with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) that gives Swinburne astronomers access to the telescopes for up to 20 nights per year.

The research paper was led by Professor Duncan Forbes, and co-authored by Dr Lee Spitler and Caroline Foster from Swinburne University, Dr Jay Strader from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics and Professor Jean Brodie and Dr Aaron Romanowsky from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Adapted from information issued by Swinburne University. Image credit: Keck Observatory and Subaru Observatory.

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Citizen scientists discover rare pulsar

Artist's impression of a pulsar

An artist's impression of a pulsar and the conical beams of radio energy it emits.

  • Rare pulsar found by “citizen scientists”
  • Part of the Einstein@Home physics program
  • Uses the idle time of home PCs to make discoveries

Three citizen scientists, a German man and an American couple, have been credited with the discovery of a rare radio pulsar hidden in data gathered by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Published today in the journal Science, the deep space discovery is the first of the international programme, Einstein@Home, which utilises the idle time of volunteers’ computers to search the Universe for neutron stars and radio pulsars.

The programme, which uses donated time from the home and office computers of 250,000 volunteers from 192 different countries around the world, is supported by an international consortium of pulsar astronomers.

One of these astronomers is Dr Ramesh Bhat from Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, who considers the public engagement component of the discovery to be a great step forward.

“This discovery, through volunteer computing, demonstrates the importance of engaging the public in such large astronomy projects. It opens up news avenues for making astronomical discoveries,” he said.

A pulsar is the “dead” remnant core of a giant star that exploded at the end of its life. With its matter packed in at an incredible density, just one teaspoonful of pulsar matter has a mass of 5,500 million tonnes.

They also have incredibly powerful magnetic fields, and emit focused beams of radio energy that can be picked up on Earth by radio telescopes. As the pulsar spins, its radio beams repeatedly sweep across our field of view like a lighthouse, hence the term “pulsar”.

Discovered with home computers

Revealed with the help of computers owned by Chris and Helen Colvin from the US and Daniel Gebhardt from Germany, the new pulsar—called PSR J2007+2722—is a neutron star that rotates 41 times per second.

Arecibo Observatory

The giant dish of the Arecibo Observatory is used to pick up the radio patterns from pulsars.

It is in the Milky Way, approximately 17,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Vulpecula. Unlike most pulsars that spin as quickly and steadily, PSR J2007+2722 sits alone in space, and has no orbiting companion star.

“Such objects are very rare and it is fair to admit that we do not have a good understanding of how such objects form in the first place,” Bhat said.

Astronomers consider the finding especially interesting since it is likely to be a recycled pulsar that lost its companion. Alternatively it could be a young pulsar born with a lower-than-usual magnetic field.

“No matter what else we find out about it, this pulsar is bound to be extremely interesting for understanding the basic physics of neutron stars and how they form,” said Jim Cordes, the chair of the Einstein@Home consortium.

A combined effort

The discovery is a boost to the major ongoing international survey of pulsars that generated the data containing PSR J2007+2722.

Due to the huge amounts of data involved the survey relies on the enormous processing power of supercomputers around the world, including the Swinburne University supercomputer, as well as the home computers of thousands of participating volunteers.

Einstein@Home is based at the Centre for Gravitation and Cosmology at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute, Hannover).

“This is a thrilling moment for Einstein@Home and our volunteers. It proves that public participation can discover new things in our universe. I hope it inspires more people to join us to help find other secrets hidden in the data,” said Bruce Allen, leader of the project and Director at the Max Planck Institute.

Adapted from information issued by Swinburne University / NAIC – Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF.

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Cosmic conundrum puzzles astronomers

Distant galaxies

Abundances of two very different types of hydrogen in certain galaxies have been found to be equal. Astronomers aren't sure why.

Researchers have uncovered a cosmological anomaly and are now trying to determine if it is an uncanny coincidence or a vital clue to understanding the origins of our Universe.

The irregularity has left the team, including researchers from Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, scratching their heads.

According to Swinburne scientist Dr Michael Murphy, the research reveals a strange coincidence—or at least what appears to be a strange coincidence—occurring in distant galaxies.

The astronomers were measuring the abundance of a type of hydrogen—called deuterium-deuterated molecular hydrogen, or HD for short—in two different galaxies in the distant Universe.

“What we inadvertently discovered was that in these two galaxies the fraction of molecules which were HD was the same as the fraction of atoms which were deuterium (D), hydrogen’s doubly-heavy cousin,” says Dr Murphy.

Distant galaxies

More observations are planned of other galaxies

“We then looked at the only other two existing measurements of HD in distant galaxies and found almost exactly the same thing.”

Dr Murphy said this was extremely unusual because HD should have a far more complex life cycle than D and researchers would expect it to be produced in very different amounts.

“Because deuterium was produced just after the Big Bang and never again, measures of its abundance are extremely important in telling us about cosmology.”

A bizarre cosmic coincidence?

Measuring the abundance of deuterium is one of the few relatively precise ways of telling how many atoms there are in the Universe overall.

“Knowing this basic parameter is important if you want to know how the Universe began, the fate of the Universe and all of the steps in between,” adds Dr Murphy.

“But HD should be a completely different story,” according to Adrian Malec, a PhD student at Swinburne. “When we realised that the abundance of HD aligned with the abundance of D we were extremely surprised.

Keck Observatory

The astronomers used the huge Keck Observatory in Hawai'i

“You would expect the abundance of HD to vary dramatically from place to place in the Universe. So if it is a coincidence, then it is a one in a million,” adds Malec.

“Which means we now have to ask the question—is this is a bizarre coincidence or is it actually meaningful?”

According to Malec, the finding raises more questions that now need to be answered.

“We have four measurements of this molecule [HD] separated by very large distances, and in each case the abundance aligns with D,” he said.

The astronomers say they probably need a dozen more measurements before they can conclusively state whether this is a just strange coincidence or whether measurements of HD could potentially be used to help them understand the evolution of the universe.

The measurements were conducted using the world’s largest optical telescopes at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.  Swinburne has an agreement with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) that gives Swinburne astronomers access to the telescopes for up to 20 nights per year.

A paper describing the work has been accepted for publication in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Adapted from information issued by Swinburne University / STScI / Keck Observatory.

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Supercomputer to boost Australian astronomy

A simulation of dark matter distribution

A simulation of the spread of dark matter in the universe, produced using a current-generation Swinburne University supercomputer. The new supercomputer will be up to 100 times better.

A multi-million dollar upgrade to Swinburne University’s supercomputer will make it a leading research facility for the Australian astronomy community.

The upgrade, which will receive $1 million from the Federal Government’s Education Investment Fund (EIF) and $2 million from Swinburne, will dramatically increase the speed and capacity of the facility—now known as ‘gSTAR’.

The EIF funding will finance the installation of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), or ‘extra brains’ for the supercomputer. Originally developed by the computer gaming industry, GPUs are a type of processor designed to perform simple tasks in a massively-parallel way that leads to enormous increases in computational power.

The Swinburne contribution will be used to upgrade the existing Central Processing Units (CPUs) and the mass storage system and pay for a new machine room to host the facility.

According to Swinburne astrophysicist Dr Darren Croton, the installation of the GPUs will boost the supercomputer’s speed between two and 100 times, depending on the application.

“This means an astrophysics simulation that would previously have taken three months to complete might only take a single day.

“This huge advance in power gives us the opportunity to tackle problems that are potentially 100 times harder,” he said.

A rack of computer equipment

The new supercomputer will used technology adapted from games computers.

Specially designed for astronomy

While there are other supercomputer facilities in Australia that are also starting to use GPU technology, they cater to a wide range of researchers and interests.

“Because these are general purpose facilities, they have to be set up in a very general way,” Croton said.

“The gSTAR’s power lies in its unique application. It will be optimised for astronomy simulations and data processing, which means it will have the same amount of power as other facilities for about one percent of the cost. That’s bang for your buck.”

Croton said that the university will make the gSTAR a national facility for astronomers across the country.

“We’re making the gSTAR and its predecessor available to astronomers from other universities and research centres.”

“In exchange the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) National Facility is funding a support person who will provide expertise and guidance to researchers, helping them optimise their code.”

The upgrade, which will see the raw power of the Swinburne supercomputer go from 10 teraflops to 600 teraflops, is expected to be completed early- to mid-next year.

Adapted from information issued by Swinburne University / Image by Dr Gregory Poole, Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Swinburne University of Technology.