Computational astrophysics

Computational astrophysics refers to the methods and computing tools developed and used in astrophysics research. Like computational chemistry or computational physics , it is a specific branch of theoretical astrophysicsand an interdisciplinary field relying on computer science , mathematics , and wider physics . Computational astrophysics is most often studied through an applied mathematics or astrophysics program at PhD level.

Well-established areas of astrophysics employing computational methods include magnetohydrodynamics , astrophysical radiative transfer, stellar and galactic dynamics, and astrophysical fluid dynamics . A recently developed field with interesting results is numerical relativity .


Many astrophysicists use computers in their work, and a growing number of astrophysics departments now dedicated to computational astrophysics. Important research initiatives include the US Department of Energy (DoE) SciDAC collaboration for astrophysics [1] and the now defunct European AstroSim collaboration. [2] A notable active project is the international Virgo Consortium , which focuses on cosmology.

In August 2015 during the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union a new commission C.B1 on Computational Astrophysics was inaugurated, therewith recognizing the importance of astronomical discovery by computing.

Important techniques of computational astrophysics include particle-in-cell (PIC) and the closely related particle-mesh (PM), N-body simulations , Monte Carlo methods , as well as grid-free (with smoothed particle hydrodynamics(SPH) being important example) and grid-based methods for fluids. In addition, methods of numerical analysis for solving ODEs and PDEs are also used.

Simulation of astrophysical flows is of particular importance as many objects and processes of astronomical interest as these stars and nebulae involve gases. Fluid computer models are often coupled with radiative transfer, (Newtonian) gravity, nuclear physics and (general) relativity to study highly energetic phenomena such as supernovae, relativistic jets , active galaxies and gamma-ray bursts [3] and are also used to model stellar structure , planet formation , evolution of stars and of galaxies , and exotic objects such as neutron stars , pulsars ,magnetars and black holes. [4] Computer simulations are often the only way to study stellar collisions , galaxy mergers , and galacticand black hole interactions. [5] [6]

In recent years the field has made increasing use of parallel and high performance computers . [7]


Computational astrophysics as a field makes extensive use of software and hardware technologies. These systems are often highly specialized and made by dedicated professionals, and are generally limited to the broadcaster (computational) physics community.


Like other similar fields, computational astrophysics makes extensive use of supercomputers and computer clusters . Even on the scale of a normal desktop it is possible to accelerate the hardware . Perhaps the most notable such computer architecture built specifically for astrophysics is the GRAPE (gravity pipe) in Japan.

As of 2010, the biggest N-body simulations, such as DEGIMA , do general-purpose computing on graphics processing units . [8]


Many codes and software packages, exist along with various researchers and consortia maintaining them. Most codes tend to be n-body packages or fluid solvers of some sort. Examples of n-body codes include ChaNGa , MODEST, [9] [10] and Starlab [11] .

For hydrodynamics there is usually a coupling between codes, as the motion of the fluids usually has some other effect (such as gravity, or radiation) in astrophysical situations. For example, for SPH / N-body there is GADGET ; for grid-based / N-body RAMSES, [12] ENZO, [13] FLASH, [14] and ART. [15]

AMUSE [2] , [16] takes a different approach (called Noah’s Arc [17] ) by providing an interface to a large number of astronomical codes for stellar dynamics, stellar evolution, hydrodynamics and radiative transport .

See also

  • Millennium Simulation , Eris , and Bolshoi Cosmological Simulation are Astrophysical Supercomputer Simulations
  • Plasma modeling
  • Computational physics
  • Theoretical astronomy and theoretical astrophysics
  • Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation
  • University of California High-Performance AstroComputing Center


  1. Jump up^ “SciDAC Astrophysics Consortium”. Accessed 8 Mar 2012.
  2. Jump up^ Accessed 8 Mar 2012.
  3. Jump up^ Breakthrough study confirms cause of short gamma-ray bursts. Astronomy (magazine).com website, April 8, 2011. Retrieved Nov 20, 2012.
  4. Jump up^ For example, see the articleCosmic Vibrations from Neutron Stars. Retrieved 21 Mar 2012.
  5. Jump up^ GALMER: GALaxy MERgers in the Virtual Observatorypermanent dead link ] : News release. Retrieved 20 Mar 2012.Project Home page. Retrieved 20 Mar 2012.
  6. Jump up^ NASA Achieves Breakthrough In Black Hole Simulation ; dated 18 Apr 2006. Recovered 18 Mar 2012.
  7. Jump up^ Lucio Mayer. Foreword: Advanced Science Letters (ASL), Special Issue on Computational Astrophysics.
  8. Jump up^ Hamada T., Nitadori K. (2010) 190 TFlops astrophysical N-body simulation on a cluster of GPUs. InProceedings of the 2010 ACM / IEEE International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis(SC ’10). IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, USA, 1-9. doi:10.1109 / SC.2010.1
  9. Jump up^ MODEST (MOdeling DEnse STellar systems) home page. . Accessed 5 April 2012.
  10. Jump up^ NBodyLab. Accessed 5 April 2012.
  11. Jump up^ [1]
  12. Jump up^ The RAMSES code
  13. Jump up^ Brian W. O’Shea, Greg Bryan, James Bordner, Michael L. Norman, Tom Abel, Robert Harkness, Alexei Kritsuk: “Introducing Enzo, an AMR Cosmology Application”. Eds. T. Plewa, T. Linde & VG Weirs, Springer Lecture Notes in Computational Science and Engineering, 2004.arXiv: astro-ph / 0403044(retrieved Nov 20, 2012);
    Project pages at:

    • Enzo @ Laboratory for Computational Astrophysics, Archived 12 December 2012 at University of San Diego (Retrieved 20 Nov 2012);
    • enzo: Astrophysical Adaptive Mesh Refinement . Google project code home page (Retrieved 20 Nov 2012).
  14. Jump up^ The Flash Center for Computational Science. Accessed 3 June 2012.
  15. Jump up^ Kravtsov, AV, Klypin, AA, Khokhlov, AM, “ART: a new high resolution N-body code for cosmological simulations”, ApJS, 111, 73, (1997)
  16. Jump up^ AMUSE (Astrophysical Multipurpose Software Environment)
  17. Jump up^ Portegies Zwart et al., “A multiphysics and multiscale software environment for modeling astrophysical systems”, NewA, 14, 369, (2009)