Super computer probes secrets of Big Bang

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The Independent Online
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And now scientists in Cambridge have a chance of learning more about just how He did it.

A new computer called Cosmos, the largest and most powerful in the UK, will be unveiled in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics this week. It will allow physicists to test, for the first time, competing theories about the early moments of the universe.

The celebrated cosmologist, mathematician and author, Professor Stephen Hawking, will outline the capabilities of Cosmos in working out exactly what went on not in the first six days, but in the first hundredth of a second of the life of the universe.

Dr Paul Shellard, the project director, explains that the "Big Bang" theory is a pretty good explanation of what has been going on for the past 10 billion years.

Cosmos will not have much to say about that, but it may provide insights into more fundamental questions. What is the universe predominantly made of? Why is there so much more matter than antimatter? And why is the density of matter in the universe so close to the critical value that leaves science unable to say whether it will go on expanding forever or eventually collapse under its own weight?

Rival theories about what happened in that first hundredth of a second give different answers to these questions. But until the arrival of Cosmos, an Origin2000 supercomputer from Silicon Graphics, the theories were so complex that they were effectively untestable.

Now, with its 32 parallel processors, 70,000 megabyte hard disc and 8,000 megabyte RAM, the new machine will, in the words of Prof Hawking, "enable us to calculate what our theories of the early universe predict and test them against the new observational results that are now coming in".

Those results include observations from the Hubble telescope and measurements of the radiation left over from the initial fireball. These are the ripples at the edge of the universe; according to some theories, they are the last relics of the primordial fluctuations that collapsed to form the galaxies.

Now Cosmos will be able to model such theories, from the first fraction of a second to the present day, to evaluate how their predictions compare with the latest observations. It may not tell us why we are here, but there is now a chance that we shall soon have a better idea of where we came from and where we, and the universe, are going.

The new computer, which is already in operation, will be formally launched by Prof Hawking on Tuesday.

Further information about the Cosmos, the universe and everything can be found on the official website: cosmos

n A month of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of Guglielmo Marconi's radio transmission of a Morse code message begin today at Weston- super-Mare, Somerset. A century ago the Italian and his assistant George Kemp sent their first message across water between two countries - from Wales to England. The message was received at nearby Brean Down.