NCSA collaboration helps discover new dwarf planet

10.19.16 -

While cataloguing dark energy in space, scientists made a startling discovery with help from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) supercomputer Blue Waters. The discovery: A new dwarf planet, temporarily named DeeDee.

The Chilean telescope at the center of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) discovered the icy planet over the summer. Previous telescopes didn't detect the planet, which is as faint as a single candle 100,000 miles away. Researchers from the University of Michigan wrote a program that runs on Blue Waters—the most powerful supercomputer on an academic campus—to analyze and extract the imagery from the telescope.

"The same sensitivity that makes this a state-of-the-art survey of the distant universe also makes it a powerful tool to look for new objects in our own cosmic backyard," said David Gerdes, the University of Michigan physics and astronomy professor who led the planet-finding team. "These analyses made use of DES data products and would not have been possible without the outstanding work of NCSA."

NCSA processes all raw images coming directly from the telescope to generate clean, calibrated images and catalogs by using Blue Waters and other advanced digital resources. Some processing is carried out on a nightly basis, other image processing is done after the observing season. The data is hosted and served by NCSA and is made available immediately to the survey’s collaborators, including the group of scientists at Michigan. Additional data access tools have also been developed at NCSA by the DES Data Management Team, including 'easyaccess' to access the database, and 'DES cutout services' to generate thumbnail image cutouts for important visual inspection of the planet candidates.

Read more about the discovery in the University of Michigan's press release.

National Science Foundation

Blue Waters is supported by the National Science Foundation through awards ACI-0725070 and ACI-1238993.