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Press Release
PS3s Help Astrophysicists Solve Black Hole Mystery
Monday, December 22, 2008

(Source: © CC 2.0Michel Ngilen
Using only the computing power of 16 Sony Playstation 3 gaming consoles, scientists at The University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, have solved a mystery about the speed at which vibrating black holes stop vibrating.

It may be the first time this kind of research has been conducted exclusively on a PS3 cluster: A related 2007 UMass Dartmouth/UAHuntsville project using a smaller PS3 cluster also used a "traditional" supercomputer to run its simulations.

The biggest advantage of the console cluster — the PS3 Gravity Grid — at UMass Dartmouth was the cost saving, said Dr. Lior Burko, an assistant physics professor at UAHuntsville. "If we had rented computing time from a supercomputer center it would have cost us about $5,000 to run our simulation one time. For this project we ran our simulation several dozens of times to test different parameters and circumstances, so you can see how much that would have cost us.

"You can build a cluster like this for perhaps $6,000, and then you can run the simulation as many times as you like at no additional cost."

"Science budgets have been significantly dropping over the last decade," said UMass Dartmount Physics Professor Gaurav Khanna, who built the PS3 cluster. "Here's a way that people can do science projects less expensively."

Khanna recently launched a website which includes step-by-step instructions for building a supercomputing PS3 cluster.

The PS3 cluster was well suited to this type of astrophysical research, which requires a large number of mathematical calculations but has low demands for RAM memory, Burko said. "Not every kind of job would be suitable for that system, but it is exactly the kind of computation that we did."

The current price for supercomputing time through a center like the National Science Foundation's TeraGrid or the Alabama Supercomputing Center is about $1 per CPU hour. Each PS3 has a powerful Cell processor. The 16-unit PS3 grid can complete a 5,000-CPU-hour (and $5,000) simulation run in about a day. That is a speed comparable to a rented supercomputer.

Published in the journal, "Classical and Quantum Gravity," the new research resolved a dispute over the speed at which black holes stop vibrating after they first form or are perturbed by something like swallowing some matter.

"Think of a bell," said Burko. "A bell rings, but eventually it gets quiet. The energy that goes out with the sound waves is energy that the bell is losing. A black hole does exactly that in gravitational waves instead of sound waves. A black hole that is wobbling is emitting gravitational waves. When those vibrations die down you get a quiet black hole."

(Most black holes are "quiet," which means the only things astronomers can measure are their mass and how fast they spin.)

Khanna and Burko used a high resolution computer simulation to "perturb" a simulated spinning black hole, then watched as it returned to its quiet state. They found that the speed at which black holes go quiet was the faster of the two competing theories.


Source: University of Alabama Huntsville -

Thanks to NewsWise for this article.

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Drake Mallard

Guest Comment
Tue, Dec 23, 2008, 5:32 am CST
That's really using your head.

Guest Comment
Tue, Dec 23, 2008, 5:38 am CST
Xbox is still better

Guest Comment
Tue, Dec 23, 2008, 7:32 am CST
Science can be so awesome! This makes me want to grab some physics books and study :D

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Like 0 Dislike
Tue, Dec 23, 2008, 9:17 am CST
Xbox is still better

Hahah, yeah, but as far as raw processing power I think PS3 has shown that it dominates xbox

Guest Comment
Wed, Dec 24, 2008, 2:24 am CST
That is...awesome.
I wonder what happens to that thinking if you run Little Big World at the same time?

Guest Comment
Wed, Dec 24, 2008, 6:40 am CST
no this doesn't prove the ps3 is better because my xbox plays games. good games. it doesn't get used for anything else because IT IS A GAMES CONSOLE!

Guest Comment
Wed, Dec 24, 2008, 10:54 pm CST
Soo...a PS3 (in a cluster) can operate comparable to a supercomputer, yet it still has little to no selection for original games?? Scientists: 1 Gamers: 0

Glad to see it's doing something for somebody. Mine is still waiting to be turned on again...

UC Davis
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Like 0 Dislike
Fri, Oct 22, 2010, 12:55 pm CDT

So a supercomputer is only as powerful as 16 PS3s for this type of stuff?  i bet the 16 PS3 collectively cost a lot less than the supercomputer...

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