April 4, 2020

05.05.11: Simulating Dark Matter.

The tadpole galaxy UGC 10214…being strung along by dark matter?

(Credit: Hubble/NASA/H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin).

How do you study the gravitational effects of dark matter on galaxy rotation over the span of a billion plus years? Simple; you get a supercomputer to do it for you! That’s exactly what 13-year old Cole Kendrick of Los Alamos MiddleSchool did to win the 21st New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge hosted recently by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Using an initial Python code, he condensed what would amount to 1 billion years of rotation into a period of 15 days… but like most teenagers, Mr. Kendrick wasn’t willing to wait that long for the universe to unfold, and further compressed the same time-span using an additional C-code language into 20 hours. Let’s see, that would run the rotation of an average galaxy over the current established 13.7 billion age of the universe in a little over 11 days, not bad for a simulation of the cosmos. (And yes, we know most galaxies aren’t that old!)

For his computing wizardry, Cole won the $1,000 prize, in addition to the $100 award as the Crowd Favorite. His program, entitled “Computer Simulation of Dark Matter Effects on Galaxy Rotation,” allows a user to simulate the rotation of a galaxy using the observed luminous mass components, and then throw in simulated dark matter to simulate its effects. This can allow the observer to predict the amount of non-luminous matter present by comparing rotation and galaxy evolution over time to observation. I think this would be an especially powerful and unique tool to look at how galaxies including our own may behave in the distant future.

Kudos to Mr. Kendrick and all those up and coming astronomers conducting unique science projects before bedtime. You are definitely a name to watch!

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