We can't set off a supernova on Earth, or smash two large black holes together in a controlled scientific experiment. This makes some of astronomy's most interesting questions difficult to tackle. We've achieved amazing understanding from looking out into space with increasingly complex telescopes, but a new tool has emerged in recent decades: massively parallel supercomputers. In this Open Night I'll lay out some of the history of computing in science, describe what exactly a modern supercomputer is like, and give you a glimpse into how scientists use them to do the impossible: setting off supernovae, merging black holes, and building galactic structures—all from the comfort of our office desk, right here on Earth.
Adam Jacobs is a graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook working on modeling helium ignition in accreted shells on white dwarfs as a model for Type Ia supernovae.