The Milky Way@Home project - which ropes in home computer users to help map the galaxy - says its combined computing power has now overtaken the second-most-powerful supercomputer in the world.
With over one petaflop at its disposal, it's probably the second fastest public distributed computing program ever in operation, says Berkeley, just behind Folding@home.
The project uses the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) platform, best-known for the SETI@home project used to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.
From a small start in 2006, the network now encompasses tens of thousands of home computers. Particilants offer a percentage of their machine's operating power that will be dedicated to calculations related to the project.
In particular, computers donating processing power to MilkyWay@Home are looking at how the different dwarf galaxies that make up the larger Milky Way galaxy have been moved and stretched following their merger with the larger galaxy millions of years ago. Their calculations are providing new details on the overall shape and density of dark matter in the Milky Way galaxy, which is widely unknown.
"I was a researcher sitting in my office with a very big computational problem to solve and very little personal computational power or time at my fingertips," said Heidi Newberg, associate professor of physics, applied physics, and astronomy at Rensselaer.
"Working with the MilkyWay@Home platform, I now have the opportunity to use a massive computational resource that I simply could not have as a single faculty researcher, working on a single research problem."