Illustration of what Dark Matter might look like

Using a supercomputer to research dark matter

Dark matter, comprised of elusive particles that elude absorption, reflection, and emission of light, remains undetectable through conventional means of observing electromagnetic radiation. Operating beyond our direct visual perception, dark matter's existence is substantiated by the discernible impact it exerts on observable objects.


A research group from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) has harnessed the computational might of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility’s Summit supercomputer to run a comprehensive cosmological model. This research aims to decipher the enigmatic characteristics of dark matter, which forms the largely unknown fabric of the universe.

Using a Supercomputer to Research Dark Matter

The prevalent Lambda-cold dark matter model of the universe posits that 85% of the universe’s matter is dark matter. However, its true nature remains elusive. As lead author Bruno Villasenor explains, our understanding of dark matter primarily derives from its gravitational influence, despite uncertainty regarding its composition.

The UCSC team created over 1,000 high-resolution hydrodynamic simulations using the Summit supercomputer, enabling them to model the Lyman-Alpha Forest. This ‘forest’ consists of myriad absorption features created as light from distant quasars traverses material on its way to Earth.

Pushing Boundaries of Dark Matter Understanding

By simulating universes with varying dark matter properties, the team could study their impact on the structure of the cosmic web. The researchers contrasted these simulations with fluctuations observed in the actual Lyman-Alpha Forest. This process resulted in the surprising conclusion that we might inhabit a universe of warm dark matter, contrary to the long-held belief of a cold dark matter universe.


Project leader Brant Robertson states that while Lambda-CDM provides a successful perspective on a plethora of astronomical observations, it is essential to probe its underlying assumptions. He emphasizes the significance of questioning our fundamental understanding of the universe.

Achieving a Computational Milestone

The UCSC project’s distinctiveness lies in challenging long-standing beliefs about dark matter and its computational achievement. The team has executed an unmatched set of simulations leveraging advanced simulation software and the raw computational power of world-leading supercomputers.

For his doctoral research, Villasenor significantly extended the functionality of a hydrodynamics code named Cholla. These additions provided the necessary physical solvers to conduct the UCSC team’s groundbreaking dark matter project. Villasenor’s enhancements to Cholla have facilitated one of the most comprehensive simulation codes for modeling the universe.

Villasenor’s Unprecedented Achievement

Robertson hails Villasenor’s work as a massive stride forward, enabling researchers to vary the universe’s physics in unprecedented ways. Villasenor’s modifications equip researchers with the ability to connect different physics and compare them directly with observations simultaneously.


Evan Schneider, who originally developed Cholla and advised Villasenor, believes that his additions will be instrumental in her forthcoming simulations on the next-generation Frontier supercomputer. Schneider praises the expansion of Cholla’s capabilities, highlighting that the code’s evolution will allow tackling increasingly complex problems in astrophysics.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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