August 29, 2012
Researchers at the University of Texas Austin have embarked on a project to discover how planets are formed. Using supercomputing resources at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), the team is now running simulations to get a better idea of how these bodies got created, not just in our solar system, but throughout the Galaxy.
Planets are believed to form in conjunction with the birth of a star. A molecular cloud collapses to form the star and any leftover particles like gas and dust form a ring around the new body. This ring, known as a protostellar disk, exists over millions of years. During this time, its contents combine with each other, eventually turning into new planets.
The researchers are attempting to understand what conditions are most suitable for the creation of planets. Sally Dodson Robinson and her team at The University of Texas at Austin, are using supercomputing simulations to explore the behavior of these protostellar disks and study how they evolve. “Getting really good detailed models of how these disks work is important.” she said.
Tracking for turbulence and temperature within a disk enables the team to determine the characteristics of a particular solar system. For example, if the disk is not very turbulent, particles are more likely to stick together and form new planets. The team also tracks the disk’s “ice line.” It’s believed that smaller terrestrial planets form between the star and this line, while larger planets like Netpune and Jupiter form on the outside of this delineation.
This research was enabled through the computational resources at TACC. The team has been running simulations that cover millions of years on the Ranger supercomputer, TACC’s Sun-built Opteron-based cluster. That system is one of the most powerful in the world, delivering 433.2 Linpack teraflops.
Using the simulations, the team has been able to generate 3D models of their data. The hope is that the information gathered in these virtual experiments may enable scientists to discover more planets outside of our solar system.
TACC produced a video detailing the research.
Full story at TACC
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