Mathematical sciences seminar: The search for black holes using supercomputers



Rainer Spurzem
National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Peking University (China)
University of Heidelberg (Germany)


Astronomers are searching for black holes since Einstein's theory of relativity predicted them about 100 years ago. Since black holes are dark and do not emit any light, it is very difficult to find them; the only way to detect them is their strong gravitational force, which acts on stars and gas around black holes. Recently, gravitational waves have been detected by the LIGO instrument in United States. They are ripples of space time emitted when two black holes collide and merge. Using supercomputers we build a virtual world, in which we study black holes, their formation, their growth, and also how they collide and emit gravitational waves. In such a virtual world we can detect the black holes already before they collide and follow their motions and interactions with other stars. In this talk I will explain what are black holes, why they are interesting for astrophysicists, and how we searched and found black hole collisions and their gravitational wave emission in our virtual world in the supercomputer. Also I will present a little history of supercomputing, how China made it to operate the fastest supercomputers in the world, and how video gaming hardware (GPU) helped us simulating black holes.