Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Scientists create Asteroids
Look at Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movies with its computer-animated interpretation of a comet striking Earth -- were big box office hits. But computer scientists at Sandia National Laboratories are creating some big hits of their own these days that they think may better approximate a real asteroid catastrophe.
Using virtual reality techniques, decades of experience in shock physics, advanced computer programs, and the world's fastest computer, the scientists have completed in recent weeks one of the largest hypervelocity impact physics calculations ever performed.
In the latest computing scenario, an asteroid 1.4 kilometers in diameter strikes the Atlantic Ocean 25 miles south of Brooklyn, N.Y. To model the event the scientists broke up a 120-square-mile space that roughly approximates the New York City metropolitan area, the air above, and the water and earth below, into 100 million separate cubes, or grids. Sandia's teraflops supercomputer then calculated what happened inside each cube as the asteroid splashed down. The cubes were reassembled to produce a three-dimensional moving picture of the collision. The teraflops, currently the world's fastest computer, performs more than one trillion mathematical operations per second.
The simulation is no video game; the calculations take into account the real-world laws of physics governing time, temperature, pressure, gravity, the densities of water and earth, and hundreds of other considerations to create an accurate prediction. What's more, the resulting computer simulation can be explored using interactive virtual reality techniques. For instance, scientists can "fly through" the 3-D movie to get a better idea of what's happening on Coney Island if they want.