Understanding star formation is critical to knowing how the Universe works since almost all phenomena in the cosmos can be linked to the evolution of stars. Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) are creating 3D visualisations of star formation simulations to communicate their complex research to a broader audience. These simulations are run on NCI’s supercomputer.

PhD student Sajay Mathew, A/Prof. Christoph Federrath and Dr Amit Seta are working on understanding the origin of stellar masses using star cluster formation simulations. An essential aspect of Sajay’s PhD project is visualising their simulations in 3D and creating quality images and movies of star formation to communicate with the general public.

Video caption: Visualisation of the star formation simulation produced by Sajay Mathew.

One of the outstanding questions in astronomy is explaining the mass distribution of stars at birth, i.e. the Initial Mass Function (IMF). Scientists utilise the IMF as a tool to understand the formation and evolution of stars because the birth mass dictates the life of a star.

However, limitations in resolution and difficulty in measuring the mass of each star obstruct observational efforts. Additionally, numerical studies are challenged by the computational expense of including all relevant physics and simultaneously resolving both the small and large scales.

Including a wide range of physics and high-resolution requirements makes the simulations extremely expensive in terms of computational resources. Thanks to the extensive array of compute cores provided by NCI Australia, the researchers at ANU can perform such expensive computations and investigate the theory of star formation.

An indispensable research element is spreading the acquired knowledge to the public. To do this, the team created 3D visualisations of their simulations. The 3D renders allow the team to comprehend the cloud morphology and the dynamical interaction between stars, which are difficult to perceive in 2D projections.

The high level of detail in the simulations also make the rendering computationally expensive. Here is where NCI GPU nodes become essential, reducing the render time significantly. Creating such scientific visualisations is vital because they help ANU scientists translate the beauty of star formation, build awareness, and spark interest towards astronomy and science in general among high schoolers and college students.

If you would like to know more, you will find the research papers available here: 

Mathew, Federrath & Seta 2023

Mathew & Federrath 2021

Video caption: Scientific visualisation 'Zooming into Birthplace of Stars'.