Gearing up for data deluge from world's biggest radio telescope

February 13, 2012
An artist impression of low frequency aperture arrays of the Square Kilometre Array. South Africa is well-placed to host the world's largest telescope because it would cost cheaper, according to the deputy science minister.

The amount of computer data generated by the entire world in a whole year will need to be stored in a single day for the world's most powerful telescope − the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) − and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) is gearing up to meet that unprecedented need.

ICRAR scientists say the $2 billion SKA will generate one exabyte of data − a billion terabytes (or one quintillion bytes) – every day while it searches the sky with the power to detect airport radars in other galaxies 50 light years away.

ICRAR− a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia − has signed an agreement with DataDirect Networks to develop the extraordinary new data storage capability.

ICRAR Director Peter Quinn said preparatory work for the SKA − for which Australia/New Zealand and Southern Africa are bidding − was "bringing together some of the world's leading minds to figure out how to solve the data deluge".

Professor Andreas Wicenec, ICRAR's head of computing, said DataDirect Networks were world leaders in the type of high-performance computing data storage required for a new era of advanced radio astronomy.

DataDirect Networks' experience would flow into storage for the SKA through work on the Australian precursor radio telescopes, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) − due for completion at the end of this year − and the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) which would be ready at the end of 2013.

"Combining DataDirect Networks' expertise in providing ultra high-speed access to large amounts of data with our experience in how astronomers need to access their material gives us the opportunity to develop the best solution," he said.

Signing of the agreement followed last week's installation at UWA of a new Fornax supercomputer − 10,000 times faster than an average office desktop computer − to help drive ICRAR's powerful new radio telescopes.

ICRAR is also preparing to develop a low-frequency component of the SKA − dubbed "SKA-low" − which, unlike the SKA's high-frequency collecting "dish" antenna array, consists of new electronic antennas with no moving parts.

Professor Peter Hall, ICRAR Deputy Director responsible for engineering, said telescopes of SKA-low's design were a relatively recent development in radio astronomy.

ICRAR has just signed an agreement with scientists from organisations in Europe, India and the UK to form a collaboration for the development of SKA-low, which would form a significant part of the SKA project.

"Another benefit of our role in this collaboration is more opportunity for Australian industry to be involved in the SKA, regardless of where it is sited," Professor Hall said.

He said ICRAR was working closely with the Australasian SKA Industry Consortium to ensure Australian enterprises had maximum opportunities to tender for construction work.

An announcement on Australia's bid for the SKA − a continent-wide Australasian project with radio sites that that extend to New Zealand − is expected to be made by the international SKA Board in London in April.

Explore further: Australia, South Africa, short-listed for giant telescope

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Infinite Fractal Consciousness
5 / 5 (10) Feb 13, 2012
"...with the power to detect airport radars in other galaxies 50 light years away."

something here is incorrect.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 13, 2012
It's a very small galaxy:)
5 / 5 (3) Feb 13, 2012
No kidding. "50 light years" is a galactic collision.

They mention handling the vast amount of data, what about the computations? I'm hoping they consider distributed computing. There are millions of us out there who donate the computational capacity of our home systems.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 14, 2012
Article from their site read: The SKA could detect airport radars on planets 50 light years away. (Just a bit of a difference from galaxies.) Sure hope the planetary inhabitants have aircraft and airports or the whole project will be for naught.
I also liked the 'would cost cheaper' caption. Cost less? Be cheaper? Am a high school intern on my first solo writing assignment?

Anyway, the article also stated that the computational power required was the equivalent of 1 BILLION high-end PC's. Yikes!
1 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2012
Are quality editors that expensive?
not rated yet Feb 14, 2012
I was thoroughly beaten to the punch on th 50 lyr away -- but 50 lyr is within our own milky way -- so we will be able to airport radar on planets within a 50 lyr bubble -- which aint bad if you are searching for local intellegent life dependant on EM radiation and its manipulation
not rated yet Feb 14, 2012
"because it would cost cheaper" Are they making a jibe at the deputy science minister or indicating the quality of what may result?

Anyway it would make sense to build arrays at 3 or more points around the earth's circumfrence to get round the clock coverage of important sky sources, such as the galactic centre, or a supernova, instead of dayly samples.

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