Visualizing Science

Ray Tracing the Cosmos

TACC-developed visualization tools help scientists see the Universe with new clarity


To understand how the Universe formed and evolved, astrophysicists simulate the physics of space, plugging in mathematical equations to represent primordial gas chemistry, radiation transport, cosmological expansion, and models of star formation. But to get from a complex simulation to a greater understanding of these dynamics, scientific visualization is key.

Ray tracing is a visualization technique that produces physically realistic lighting effects. Ray tracing with scientific data provides better depth cues and more accurate light behavior which, in turn, enhances the information content of an image. Ray tracing is beginning to replace traditional rendering methods in scientific software.

This image is a volume rendering of a cosmological simulation generated using the Enzo code that TACC used to verify the center’s ray tracing techniques. The volume renderer is part of the NSF-funded GraviT software package developed at TACC. This image was created as part of the center’s work to connect GraviT into the yt project, an open source visualization and analysis package that grew out of the Enzo cosmology community. In this example, GraviT was used to volume render the density variable in parallel on TACC’s Stampede2 supercomputer.