Supercomputer Astronomy: The Next Generation

The supercomputer Cray XC50, nicknamed NS-05 “ATERUI II” started operation on June 1, 2018. With a theoretical peak performance of 3.087 petaflops, ATERUI II is the world’s fastest supercomputer for astrophysical simulations. ATERUI Ⅱsimulates a wide range of astronomical phenomena inaccessible to observational astronomy, allowing us to boldly go where no one has gone before, from the birth of the Universe itself to the interior of a dying star.

Figure: The supercomputer for astronomy “ATERUI II”. (Credit: NAOJ)

Professor Eiichiro Kokubo, the CfCA Project Director says, “Computational astronomy is gaining popularity in many fields. A new ‘telescope’ for theoretical astronomy has opened its eyes. I expect that ATERUI II will explore the Universe through more realistic simulations.”

ATERUI II is a massive parallel supercomputer and the 5th generation of systems operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). Linking forty thousand cores allows ATERUI II to calculate rapidly. ATERUI II has three times better performance than the previous “ATERUI” system. A high-speed network enables astronomers to access ATERUI II from their home institutes. In this year, about 150 researchers will use ATERUI II.

With its superior computational capability, ATERUI II will tackle problems too difficult for previous computers. For example, ATERUI II is able to calculate the mutual gravitational forces among the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, rather than bunching them into groups of stars the way other simulations do. In this way ATERUI II will generate a full-scale high-resolution model of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Computational astronomy is still a young discipline compared to observational astronomy, in which researchers use telescopes to observe celestial objects and phenomena, and theoretical astronomy, where researchers describe the Universe in terms of mathematics and physical laws. Thanks to the rapid advancement of computational technology in recent decades, astronomical simulations to recreate celestial objects, phenomena, or even the whole Universe within the computer, have risen up as the third pillar in astronomy.

“Aterui” is the name of a historical hero who lived in the Mizusawa area, where ATERUI II is located. With his comrades he fought bravely against conquerors 1200 years ago. ATERUI II is nicknamed after this brave hero in hopes that it will boldly confront the formidable enigmas of the Universe. The reimagined tensyo kanji (traditional block style lettering) for “ATERUI II” (阿弖流為 弐) designed by artist Jun Kosaka are written on the housing.

Figure 2: The front view of ATERUI II (Credit: NAOJ)

Basic specifications of ATERUI II

Theoretical Peak Performance 0.502 Pflops 1.058 Pflops 3.087 Pflops
Total Main Memory 94.25 TB 135.6 TB 385.9 TB
CPU Intel® Xeon®Processor E5-2670 (2.6 GHz, 8 cores) Intel® Xeon®Processor E5-2690 v3 (2.6 GHz, 12 cores) Intel® Xeon® Gold 6148 Processor (2.4 GHz, 20 cores)
The total core number 24,192 25,440 40,200

Images and Movies

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Movie: Supercomputer for Astronomy: ATERUI II
Movie: Directed by Yuichi Minamiguchi & Yoshiaki Higuchi, Music: 'Melt' Composed by Ayumi Yoshioka
Credit: NAOJ

[Simulation Examples of ATERUI II]
* Binary Star Formation Simulation

This video, based on simulations by ATERUI II, shows gas from the disk created around a pair of developing binary stars falling onto the stars and fueling their growth. Comparing simulations to observational results gives us new insights into the phenomena seen in the observations. ATERUI II can calculate more models for comparison, faster than the previous system. (Credit: Tomoaki Matsumoto, Hosei University/Princeton University)

* Large-Scale Structure of the Universe Simulation

This is a simulation of the formation of the Large Scale Structure of the Universe based on the mutual gravitational interactions between the dark matter particles. (a) and (b) are the results of the calculations with the previous system ATERUI. (c) is calculated by ATERUI II and can resolve smaller features to depict the Universe in greater detail. (Credit: Tomoaki Ishiyama: Chiba University)
Download: [(a)], [(b)], [(c)], [(a)(b)(c)]

ATERUI II Pictures

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Photo: Shogo Nagayama, Makoto Shizugami, Hinako Fukushi
Credit: NAOJ