Waiting for starlight


Davide Lazzati tries to make sense of violent bursts that shine from the far reaches of the universe

Davide Lazzati’s computer screen is a blur of numbers. They race across in an endless torrent, far too fast for anyone to read. If you could, you’d be looking at the sudden swell of a cosmic explosion.

Lazzati leans back in his chair and waits, humming along to Led Zeppelin. He likes to listen to music while he codes. “It can get pretty loud,” says Lazzati, an astrophysicist at Oregon State University. He has charcoal hair that’s just beginning to gray at the temples, and a sheepish grin that he deploys often, including now. “Sometimes I close the door so I don’t bother other people,” he says.

At the moment, he’s just making sure that his code works properly. When he’s satisfied, he’ll send the code to a supercomputer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. These supercomputers are vastly more powerful than Lazzati’s Mac Pro, but even so, it will take weeks to complete a simulation. That’s because the phenomena Lazzati studies are far more powerful still.

Read the full story in Terra Magazine.

Gamma-ray bursts are produced when massive stars collapse (shown above), or when massive objects like neutron stars or black holes collide. (Credit: Lopez-Camara, Lazzati, Morsony, & Bergelman 2013)