Cosmic Fireworks: How Black Holes Regulate Galactic Evolution
Simulation and computational methods have been vital in the development of modern astronomy. Cosmology provides a good example of the impact of computation: the ability to accurately simulate complex non-linear gravitational evolution has lead to huge leaps forward in the understanding of the large-scale distribution of galaxies. Students looking to study almost any form of astrophysics and astronomy, be it observational or theoretical, will frequently be exposed to computation in some form or another. Having the skills necessary to work quickly and efficiently in a computational environment is a significant advantage.
Despite being a cosmic "point of no return", black holes actually facilitate the release of enormous amounts of energy into their environs. This energy can be sufficiently large to stall the evolution of entire galaxies, and at minimum has a dramatic impact on the gas between galaxies. We have simulated this physics in detail on parallel computers, and have been able to make the first ever prediction of the evolution of a large sample of simulated galaxies under the influence of energy output from black holes. This research project was challenging both in terms of the physical modelling, and the computational science required to develop the necessary tools. For example, one simulation produced a multi-terabyte data set that had to be transferred across the country using advanced networking tools. Future research projects will require even larger computers to solve the more detailed physical models that are now emerging.