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OSC resources shed light onto galactic evolution

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The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) has revealed that Ohio State University (OSU) astronomers are using the centre's resources to unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the formation of galaxies and the evolution of massive black holes. Two research teams led by Stelios Kazantzidis, a long-term fellow at the Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics (CCAPP) at OSU have used 1,000 processor hours on the parallel high performance computing systems each day for more than two years. To develop their detailed models and resulting simulations, Kazantzidis and his colleagues tapped OSC’s flagship system, the Glenn IBM Cluster 1350, which features more than 9,600 Opteron cores and 24 terabytes of memory.

Kazantzidis and University of Zurich student Simone Callegari recently authored a paper, 'Growing massive black hole pairs in minor mergers of disk galaxies,' and submitted it for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. Their study involved a suite of high-resolution, smoothed-particle hydrodynamics simulations of merging disk galaxies with supermassive black holes (SMBHs). These simulations include the effects of star formation and growth of the SMBHs, as well as feedback from both processes.

'Binary SMBHs are very important, because once they form there is always the possibility that the two black holes may subsequently merge,' Kazantzidis explained. 'Merging SMBHs will produce the strongest signal of gravitational wave emission in the universe. Gravitational waves have not yet been directly detected, although Einstein predicted them in his Theory of General Relativity.'

The astronomers found that the mass ratios of SMBH pairs in the centres of merged galaxies do not necessarily relate directly to the ratios they had to their original host galaxies, but are 'a consequence of the complex interplay between accretion of matter (stars and gas) onto them and the dynamics of the merger process.' As a result, one of the two SMBHs can grow in mass much faster than the other.

Kazantzidis and his colleagues also recently developed sophisticated computer models to simulate the formation of dwarf spheroidal galaxies, which are satellites of our own galaxy the Milky Way. The study concluded that, in a majority of cases, disk-like dwarf galaxies – known in the field as disky dwarfs – experience significant loss of mass as they orbit inside their massive hosts, and their stellar distributions undergo a dramatic morphological, as well as dynamical, transformation; from disks to spheroidal systems. 'These galaxies are very important for astrophysics, because they are the most dark matter-dominated galaxies in the universe,' Kazantzidis said. 'Understanding their formation can shed light into the very nature of dark matter. Environmental processes like the interactions between dwarf galaxies and their massive hosts we’ve been investigating should be included as ingredients in future models of dwarf galaxy formation and evolution.'

The goal of Kazantzidis’ team is to develop representations of galaxies that are as accurate as possible. Access to the Glenn Cluster increases the number of objects (or simulation particles) that can be depicted in the model, enhancing their ability to perform accurate and meaningful calculations. These projects were funded by CCAPP, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education, and by an allocation of computing time from OSC.