Peer Into the Inside of Our Planet With This Trippy Computer Simulation

By Jamie Condliffe on at

This trippy orb isn't the result of a misspent youth. Instead, it's the fruits of complex computer simulations that use the speed of seismic waves from earthquakes to visualise the existence of subterranean structures far beneath the surface of our planet.

Created by Ebru Bozdağ from France's University of Nice Sophia Antipolis and David Pugmire of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US, the image above shows a view of Earth's mantle – the semi-solid rock layer that stretches to a depth of 1,800 miles beneath our feet – seen from the Pacific Ocean. Red and orange areas show where seismic waves travel slower; faster waves are shown in green and blue. The areas where waves move fastest are typically the one where tectonic plates sink away beneath another.

With the a growing network of earthquake detection systems now in place, a team of researchers from Princeton, led by Professor Jeroen Tromp, are now seeking to move from theory to reality. In a newly launched project, his team will use real data to create similar visualisations – churning through mountains of numbers at a rate of 20 quadrillion calculations per second using Oak Ridge's Titan supercomputer. [Princeton]

Image by Ebru Bozdağ, University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, and David Pugmire, Oak Ridge National Laboratory