Social Milky Way space exploration project cranks up world's second fastest "supercomputer"

MilkyWay@Home project has thousands of computers looking into space

NASA; Milky Way
What do you get when you strap together the collected computing power of thousands of home computers to map out the  Milky Way galaxy? How about a 1 petaflop "supercomputer" that outperforms most of the world's most powerful supercomputers. 

The volunteer project,  MilkyWay@Home, is run by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and uses the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) platform to harness volunteered computing resources to create a three dimensional model of the Milky Way galaxy using data gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. 

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In eight years of operation, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has obtained deep, multi-color images covering more than a quarter of the sky and created 3-dimensional maps containing more than 930,000 galaxies and more than 120,000 quasars.   The SDSS used a dedicated 2.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory, New Mexico.

The 120-megapixel camera imaged 1.5 square degrees of sky at a time, about eight times the area of the full moon. A pair of spectrographs fed by optical fibers measured spectra of more than 600 galaxies and quasars in a single observation. A custom-designed set of software pipelines kept pace with the enormous data flow from the telescope, according to the SDSS Web site. 

BOINC is used in the SETI@home project which uses volunteer computing power to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.  According to Rensselaer, MilkyWay@Home has outgrown even this famous project, in terms of speed, making it the fastest computing project on the  BOINC platform and perhaps the second fastest public distributed computing program ever, according to Rensselaer. 

Each user participating in the project signs up their computer and offers up a percentage of the machine's operating power that will be dedicated to calculations related to the project. For the MilkyWay@Home project, each personal computer is using data gathered about a very small section of the galaxy to map its shape, density, and movement, according to Rensselaer.  

Collaboration has already begun to develop a DNA@Home platform to find gene regulations sites on human DNA. Collaborations have also started with biophysicists and chemists on two other BOINC projects at Rensselaer to understand protein folding and to design new drugs and materials. 

A Cray supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory currently owns the  the title of the world's most powerful supercomputer.  The Jaguar supercomputer boasts a speed of 1.759 petaflops from its 224,162 cores, while the IBM Roadrunner system at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico slowed slightly to 1.042 petaflops after it was repartitioned. 

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