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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 21:20 EDT

Clustered PlayStations Solve Complex Astrophysics Problem

December 24, 2008

What do you get when you chain together sixteen Sony PlayStation 3s?  Answer:  A powerful, affordable, number-crunching machine able to work interstellar math in tandem to solve complex astrophysics problems such as “At what speed do vibrating black holes stop vibrating?”

A new PC World report cites scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, who harnessed the computing power of 16 PS3s operating in a homebrew supercluster they call the “PS3 Gravity Grid”.

The clustered system has a total cost of around $6000 ““ a real bargain according to Dr. Lior Burko, an assistant physics professor at The University of Alabama.  

“If we had rented computing time from a supercomputer center it would have cost us about $5,000 to run our simulation one time,” Burko told PC World.

“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.”

Clustering the 16 PS3s was apparently simple enough that its creator, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth physics professor Gaurav Khanna, established an open source do-it-yourself PS3Cluster Guide for nascent PS3 supercomputing prot©g©s.  All that’s required is Fedora 8, a USB keyboard, a USB memory and 16 PS3s.   

And for those who thought black holes merely consumed objects, something often portrayed in film, it turns out they actually vibrate after they are formed.  

“Think of a bell,” Burko described.

“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.”

The PS3 scientists used their cluster to simulate a black hole and “perturb” it.  They then measured the point at which it returned to its “quiet” state.

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