Defending Earth: How HPC Elevates Planetary Security

July 25, 2023

NEO Surveyor Mission Leverages Puma's Formidable Power to Safeguard Our World


In the ever-evolving world of cutting-edge research and planetary defense, the University Information Technology Services (UITS) High-Performance Computer (HPC), aptly named Puma, has emerged as a trailblazing symbol of computational might. Designed and constructed in the early part of 2020, Puma has swiftly become the cornerstone of groundbreaking scientific investigations, most notably in supporting the upcoming NEO-Surveyor Space Mission, which seeks to redefine the boundaries of planetary defense against Near Earth Objects (NEO).

At the helm of this pivotal mission is Dr. Amy Mainzer, a distinguished University Professor of Planetary Science, whose vision and expertise have propelled the endeavor to new heights. Directed by Congress, the Neo-Surveyor Mission's ambitious mandate is to identify 90% of all Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), a daunting task considering their current count in the thousands.

The mission comprises two vital components: the NEO Surveyor flight segment and the NEO Surveyor Investigation System ground segment, meticulously optimized to elevate sensitivity, observation cadence, and data analysis capabilities. Classified as a Category 2 mission by NASA, NEO Surveyor's primary focus is the detection and characterization of potentially hazardous celestial objects.

The driving force behind Dr. Mainzer's groundbreaking research and the Neo-Surveyor Mission lies in the formidable resources provided by Puma, the HPC operated by UITS. Securing funding from diverse sources, researchers, including Dr. Mainzer, acquire their own hardware through startup funds, gaining exclusive access to the computing prowess of Puma.

Puma, initially boasting approximately 200 compute nodes, received a substantial boost when researchers from across the University contributed an additional 120 nodes to enhance its capabilities. Dr. Mainzer's dedicated funding enabled the acquisition of four of these compute nodes, affording her uninterrupted access to an impressive computing power, effectively propelling her research endeavors forward.

Chris Reidy, Manager of Research Consulting in Research Technologies, elaborated on the concept of compute nodes within Puma, likening each one to the processing power of a high-performance workstation or a potent laptop that could effortlessly fit on a standard desk.

"To put it in perspective," opined Reidy, "one compute node in Puma can be contrasted to an Apple MacBook Pro with 8 cores and 16GB of memory. Each compute node within Puma stands as a formidable computational unit boasting an impressive 96 cores and 512GB of memory."

Reidy offered a relatable analogy to grasp the awe-inspiring might of Puma, envisioning the complete power of this supercomputer as a room filled with an astonishing 500 stacked laptops. The computational resources wielded by Puma have propelled the University of Arizona's research endeavors to new heights, attracting researchers from diverse fields like Biomedical, Materials Science, and the College of Public Health, among others, to invest in the HPC's capabilities.

As the University of Arizona continues to lead the charge in exploration and defense against Near Earth Objects, Puma serves as an invaluable ally in pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge and technological innovation. With a future supercomputer on the horizon to match its growth, UITS ensures that humanity remains vigilant and well-equipped to navigate the cosmic expanse, safeguarding our planet from potential celestial threats.

Chat now