PS3s help astrophysicists solve mystery of black hole vibrations

black hole
An artist's concept of a growing black hole. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

( -- Using only the computing power of 16 Sony Playstation 3 gaming consoles, scientists at The University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, have solved a mystery about the speed at which vibrating black holes stop vibrating.

It may be the first time this kind of research has been conducted exclusively on a PS3 cluster: A related 2007 UMass Dartmouth/UAHuntsville project using a smaller PS3 cluster also used a "traditional" supercomputer to run its simulations.

The biggest advantage of the console cluster — the PS3 Gravity Grid — at UMass Dartmouth was the cost saving, said Dr. Lior Burko, an assistant physics professor at UAHuntsville. "If we had rented computing time from a supercomputer center it would have cost us about $5,000 to run our simulation one time. For this project we ran our simulation several dozens of times to test different parameters and circumstances, so you can see how much that would have cost us.

"You can build a cluster like this for perhaps $6,000, and then you can run the simulation as many times as you like at no additional cost."

"Science budgets have been significantly dropping over the last decade," said UMass Dartmount Physics Professor Gaurav Khanna, who built the PS3 cluster. "Here's a way that people can do science projects less expensively."

Khanna recently launched a website — — which includes step-by-step instructions for building a supercomputing PS3 cluster.

The PS3 cluster was well suited to this type of astrophysical research, which requires a large number of mathematical calculations but has low demands for RAM memory, Burko said. "Not every kind of job would be suitable for that system, but it is exactly the kind of computation that we did."

The current price for supercomputing time through a center like the National Science Foundation's TeraGrid or the Alabama Supercomputing Center is about $1 per CPU hour. Each PS3 has a powerful Cell processor. The 16-unit PS3 grid can complete a 5,000-CPU-hour (and $5,000) simulation run in about a day. That is a speed comparable to a rented supercomputer.

Published in the journal, "Classical and Quantum Gravity," the new research resolved a dispute over the speed at which black holes stop vibrating after they first form or are perturbed by something like swallowing some matter.

"Think of a bell," said Burko. "A bell rings, but eventually it gets quiet. The energy that goes out with the sound waves is energy that the bell is losing. A black hole does exactly that in gravitational waves instead of sound waves. A black hole that is wobbling is emitting gravitational waves. When those vibrations die down you get a quiet black hole."

(Most black holes are "quiet," which means the only things astronomers can measure are their mass and how fast they spin.)

Khanna and Burko used a high resolution computer simulation to "perturb" a simulated spinning black hole, then watched as it returned to its quiet state. They found that the speed at which black holes go quiet was the faster of the two competing theories.

Provided by University of Alabama

Explore further

A supercomputer in the palm of your hand

Citation: PS3s help astrophysicists solve mystery of black hole vibrations (2008, December 22) retrieved 16 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Dec 22, 2008
Any excuse for buying an excesive number of gaming consuls is good enough for me.

Dec 23, 2008
Sony, official sponsor of the technological singularity.

Dec 23, 2008
if u have a ps3

join the network computing projects

already like 200k ps3 are participating

the networks computanional power is already that

of the top 15 super computers from the 500 list


Dec 23, 2008
I'll take a computer with a three-SLI slot motherboard. Put an Nvidia GeForce 280 graphics card in each slot. Do processing using Nvidia's CUDA technology. Now I have a single computer that uses the processing power of a total of 720 cores (not counting the CPU's cores). Cluster like machines. That enables some serious number crunching.

Dec 23, 2008
And mom said video games weren't worth anything!

Dec 23, 2008
Glad they're finding a valid use for the PS3 since its intended debut was, is, and will continue to be a gigaflop.

Maybe their research can help Sony recognize when they've created a black hole before it starts sucking all of their money through the event horizon never to be seen again.

Dec 23, 2008
So this point of mass that has no physical size in our universe vibrates? Which part?

Dec 23, 2008
brant, the gravity waves.

Dec 26, 2008
Why only 16 PS3's why not more? It cant be a price issue so what?

Dec 28, 2008
I know it can be hard to understand for gamers, being a gamer myself- but I do not care what kind of rig you have with overclocking and cooling- there are things the ps3 can do in minutes that would take your computer days. Running a game with large amounts of complex shaders and real time post process lighting is a completely different thing then cracking an encryption code, or modeling out gravitational waves, or vectoring heat transfer through a material- or a million other things that just involve many small calculations that need to be done. The real problem for the PS3 is not the 512 megs of ram, it is the speed of its I/O system from hard drives, blue ray, and memory cards. That ram has been standardly running at 32000mhz since the first ps3 hit the shelves. If you had RAID that ram would be performing as well as various types of ram in amounts of 2-4GB, that beats GDDR5 and GDDR5 is not even out yet. The ram also has full bandwidth to the sub processors. The 8 cores also house robust amounts of registers- everything about that archetecture runs smooth.

But if you wanna talk about graphics then lets talk about the Sony/NVidia XEGO rack mount CG rendering system with CELL core and beefed up ram banks. One of those can render a CG movie in real time, such as the original Final Fantasy movie which put off a lot of people for looking too real. It also encodes 4K video in real time try that with SLI

Dec 28, 2008
Why only 16 PS3's why not more? It cant be a price issue so what?

"Science budgets have been significantly dropping over the last decade,"

As the article indicates- less money means less money to go around to finance various projects.

Dec 30, 2008
The Badaboom Media Converter software is a good alternative for lightening fast video conversion. It is made to be used in conjunction with a 200-series Nvidia Geforce graphics card such as the GeForce 260 or 280. Badaboom does the conversions using Nvidia's CUDA technology; hence all cores present in either graphics card are used for the converting. With so many cores in either graphics card, conversions are fast. Using more graphics cards on an SLI motherboard adds more cores and parallelism and further increases speed. Both graphics cards are available in various overclocked versions, too. I am speaking only of Nvidia's consumer graphics cards. More powerful Nvidia graphics cards are available for high-end work.

Jan 01, 2009
Black hole and Big bang.
A black hole is a theoretical region of space in which the
gravitational field is so powerful that nothing can escape.
Hawking Radiation theorizes that black holes do not,
in fact, absorb all matter absolutely; they give off some
return matter.
Once upon a time, 20 billions of years ago, all matter
(all elementary particles and all quarks and their
girlfriends- antiparticles and antiquarks, all kinds of
waves: electromagnetic, gravitational, muons%u2026
gluons field %u2026.. etc.) %u2013 was assembled in a %u201Csingle point%u201D

The reason of this unity is gravitational force.
How does this %u201Csingle point%u201D created if the matter
can escape from any strong gravitational force?
Dark energy may be vacuum

When the next revolution rocks physics,
chances are it will be about nothing%u2014the vacuum, that endless
infinite void.


============ . .
Best wishes.
Israel Sadovnik. / Socratus.

Jan 02, 2009
Scrotus, you are a nincompoop. The universe is not 20 billion years old, and even if there was a singularity, there was no gravity at that time. Everyone knows that. Why would you take the time to type all of that nonsense. it has nothing to do with the article.

Jan 10, 2009
Not only that, Mercury_01, but to add to his incredibility we should also mention that black holes aren't quite "theoretical". And it was never stated that nothing can escape it, just that nothing can escape it once it's gone beyond the event horizon. Big difference. There are regions before that point where it is still possible for particles to escape its pull.

Mar 05, 2009
Where does the figure of $5,000 come from? NSF computing centers don't charge for usage, although maybe they should.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more