How this supercomputer will use A.I. to map the universe’s dark energy

Perlmutter supercomputer at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Perlmutter supercomputer at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Berkeley Lab

To hunt down one of the most mysterious forces in the universe, you need a powerful computer. The search for dark energy will soon be fueled by next-generation supercomputers, helping a project to produce the most detailed 3D map of the universe ever.

Wall Street Journal report That the new Perlmutter supercomputer, recently installed at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center in Berkeley, Calif., will begin work on the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) survey project this summer. This project aims to learn more about dark energy, a hypothesized type of energy that accounts for 68% of the universe. To do this, the DESI instrument at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona will observe the night sky with 5,000 spectroscopic “eyes” that will record light from 35 million galaxies.

To analyze all that data, the researchers will use the Perlmutter supercomputer. Named after Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter, the computer is a significant upgrade over the lab’s previous supercomputer, the Corey, and is predicted to have up to 100 petaflops of processing power.

Perlmutter will use artificial intelligence to identify important objects in the DESI data, then other applications can calculate the distance between these objects. By observing how gravity operates on very large scales, researchers can obtain clues about the expansion of the universe and learn about dark energy from it.

This is because dark energy is something that we know exists because of the way the universe is expanding. Scientists have long known that the universe is expanding, but research using the Hubble Space Telescope in the 1990s showed that the rate of this expansion was not slowing down as would be expected due to gravity , but was getting really fast. That’s the puzzle: There is some unknown force pushing galaxies outward, and that force is what we call dark energy. To understand this further, we have to track distant objects like galaxies or quasars and map their distances.

To this end, the DESI project aims to produce a 3D map of the sky, far more detailed than any other 3D map ever created. “It allows us to look further back into the history of the universe and into periods of time that have never been investigated [at high precision] for dark energy studies,” Aaron Meisner, a staff scientist at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, told the WSJ.

DESI is expected to begin its five-year survey later this year.

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