Black holes from an exacomputer

May 29, 2018, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main

Even after the direct measurement of their gravitational waves, there are still mysteries surrounding black holes. What happens when two black holes merge, or when stars collide with a black hole? This has now been simulated by researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt and the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) using a novel numerical method. The simulation code "ExaHyPE" is designed in such a way that it will be able to calculate gravitational waves on the future generation of exascale supercomputers.

The challenge in simulating lies in the necessity of solving the complex Einstein system of equations. This can only be done numerically and exploiting the power oi parallel supercomputers. How accurately and how quickly a solution can be approximated depends on the algorithm used. In this case, the team headed by Professor Luciano Rezzolla from the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the Goethe University and the FIAS achieved a milestone. Over the long term, this theoretical work could expand the experimental possibilities for detecting from other astronomical bodies besides black holes.

The novel numerical method, which employs the ideas of the Russian physicist Galerkin, allows the computation of gravitational waves on supercomputers with very high accuracy and speed. "Reaching this result, which has been the goal of many groups worldwide for many years, was not easy," says Prof. Rezzolla. "Although what we accomplished is only a small step toward modelling realistic black holes, we expect our approach to become the paradigm of all future calculations."

Exascale Computers – as fast as the human brain?

Rezollas team is part of a Europe-wide collaboration with the objective of developing a numerical simulation code for gravitational waves, "ExaHyPE", that can exploit the power of "exascale" supercomputers. While they have not yet been built, scientists around the world are already studying how to make use of exascale machines. These supercomputers represent the future evolution of today's "petascale" supercomputers, and are expected to be able to perform as many arithmetic operations per second as there are insects on Earth. This is a number with 18 zeros and it is assumed that such supercomputers will be comparable to the capacity of the human brain.

While they are waiting for the first "exascale" computers to be built, the ExaHyPE scientists are already testing their software at the largest supercomputing centres available in Germany. The biggest ones are those at the Leibniz supercomputing centre LRZ in Munich, and the high-performance computing centre HLRS in Stuttgart. These computers are already constructed with more than 100,000 processors and will become much larger soon.

Simulating tsunamis and earthquakes

Because of the analogies in the underlying equations, the new mathematical algorithms allow the investigation of tsunamis and earthquakes in addition to astrophysical compact objects such as black holes and neutron stars. Developing the new computer algorithms, which will be able to mathematically describe solids, liquids and gases within the theories of electromagnetism and gravitation, is the goal of the research project funded by the European Commission through the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme. The Frankfurt-based scientists work closely together with colleagues from Munich (Germany), Trento (Italy) and Durham (Great Britain).

"The most exciting aspect of the ExaHyPE project is the unique combination of theoretical physics, applied mathematics and computer science," says Professor Michael Dumbser, leader of the Applied Mathematics team in Trento. "Only the combination of these three different disciplines allows us to exploit the potential of supercomputers for understanding the complexity of the universe."

Explore further: Black hole pair born inside a dying star?

More information: Michael Dumbser et al. Conformal and covariant Z4 formulation of the Einstein equations: Strongly hyperbolic first-order reduction and solution with discontinuous Galerkin schemes, Physical Review D (2018). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevD.97.084053

Related Stories

Black hole pair born inside a dying star?

December 19, 2017

Far from earth, two black holes orbit around each other, propagating waves that bend time and space. The existence of such waves—gravitational waves—was first predicted by Albert Einstein over a century ago on the basis ...

First gravitational waves form after 10 million years

September 5, 2016

If two galaxies collide, the merging of their central black holes triggers gravitational waves, which ripple throughout space. An international research team involving the University of Zurich has now calculated that this ...

How massive can neutron stars be?

January 16, 2018

Astrophysicists at Goethe University Frankfurt set a new limit for the maximum mass of neutron stars: They cannot exceed 2.16 solar masses.

The background hum of space could reveal hidden black holes

April 12, 2018

Deep space is not as silent as we have been led to believe. Every few minutes a pair of black holes smash into each other. These cataclysms release ripples in the fabric of spacetime known as gravitational waves. Now Monash ...

Recommended for you

Planetary nebula lasers

June 25, 2018

Astronomical masers (the radio wavelength analogs of lasers) were first identified in space over fifty years ago and have since been seen in many locations; astronomical lasers have since been seen as well. Some of the most ...

HESS J1943+213 is an extreme blazar, study finds

June 21, 2018

An international group of astronomers have carried out multi-wavelength observations of HESS J1943+213 and found evidence supporting the hypothesis that this gamma-ray source is an extreme blazar. The finding is reported ...

The Rosetta stone of active galactic nuclei deciphered

June 21, 2018

A galaxy with at least one active supermassive black hole – named OJ 287 – has caused many irritations and questions in the past. The emitted radiation of this object spans a wide range – from the radio up to the highest ...

'Red nuggets' are galactic gold for astronomers

June 21, 2018

About a decade ago, astronomers discovered a population of small, but massive galaxies called "red nuggets." A new study using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory indicates that black holes have squelched star formation in these ...


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

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.