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COSMOS allows us to peer backward to the Big Bang

The COSMOS supercomputer is helping us to push back our understanding of the universe to the first moments after the Big Bang. The Planck satellite has yielded the highest precision measurements so far of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation – the radiation left over from the Big Bang – but analysing the Planck data is a task so massive it can only be done on supercomputers like COSMOS.

Unlike many supercomputers, which are in fact clusters of smaller systems networked together, COSMOS is a single system. This distinction is vital when it comes to software code development. COSMOS’s flexible shared-memory architecture is ideal for this purpose. It allows our researchers to focus on innovative codes first and develop efficient parallelism in their software while proving their theories. They can go from working on their laptop to COSMOS much more easily than programming for a large, distributed system, where the parallelism of the code becomes much more critical to get their applications to work.

COSMOS has proved essential for our work with the CMB, particularly the Planck satellite maps of the entire sky. Recent analysis of CMB observations confirms predictions that a period of enormously fast exponential expansion, which cosmologists call inflation, occurred in the early universe. During inflation, very small changes, or quantum fluctuations, were imprinted into the fabric of space-time. These later became the seeds for the development of all the structures we now see in the universe. Establishing the fundamental character of these fluctuations would offer vital clues about how the universe emerged out of inflation, one of the most important goals in fundamental science. So, supercomputers like COSMOS are critical to our understanding of the earliest times in the universe.

Another major project being undertaken on COSMOS is the study of spectroscopic signatures of particular molecules in exoplanet atmospheres (the ExoMol project). These signatures can help in the identification of exoplanets and whether or not there is extra-terrestrial life there.

More information about this story can be found here: http://www.hpcwire.com/2014/10/10/peering-backward-big-bang-ctc-cosmos/

ExoMol: http://www.exomol.com/