It’s not news that Linux powers most of the world’s fastest supercomputers, but have you ever actually seen the list? I was not aware that there was an organization set up to track all those supercomputers and publish the details, but today I found Top500 Supercomputer sites and its latest Top500 list for June 2010. BBC News has a very cool graphical representation of the list.

According to its Objectives page:

Our list has been compiled twice a year since June 1993 with the help of high-performance computer experts, computational scientists, manufacturers, and the Internet community in general who responded to a questionnaire we sent out; we thank all the contributors for their cooperation. We have also used parts of statistical lists published by others for different purposes.

Top500 uses the Linpack Benchmark to rate the performance of the supercomputers, which you can find out more details about by following the link. So, what’s on top right now? The title belongs to the Jaguar – Cray XT5-HE Opteron Six Core 2.6 GHz at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the United States, with peak speeds around 2.33 petaflops — powered by Linux, of course.

Photo Credit: National Center for Computational Sciences

The Oak Ridge lab’s news release states:

Capable of calculating over a thousand trillion calculations per second (a “petaflops”), Jaguar became the fastest supercomputer in the world for unclassified research. Jaguar is capable of simulating physical systems with heretofore unfeasible speed and accuracy-from the explosions of stars to the building blocks of matter.

So, what’s an example of what is being done with all this computing power? Simulating a supernova, for one. A 2009 Wired magazine article looked into the potential research that astrophysicists and biologists would be conducting using the Jaguar’s immense capabilities:

Starting in 2010, some of them will have the chance to run the biggest and most intricate simulations ever, creating experimental galaxies, plasma fusion reactors and global climates to help solve some of science’s most complex problems.

Image: Climate research at ORNL

Jaguar will be used to simulate supernovas to see what happens right after the first shockwave begins and also to explore the dark matter “halo” surrounding the Milky Way.

Check out the related TechRepublic gallery, TOP500 lists the world’s fastest supercomputers.

Warning: All of the links provided here will probably lead you down all sorts of geeky rabbit holes, the same way they did me, so allow some extra weekend time to explore.