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Data deluge for astronomers

Artist's impression of the LSST

The proposed Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will survey the entire visible sky every week from a mountaintop in Chile.

THE STEREOTYPICAL ASTRONOMER of yesteryear was a patient soul, endlessly gazing skywards searching for a faint glimmer that might lead to a discovery.

But for the astronomers of tomorrow this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Super-sized telescopes currently under development around the world like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), will be so sensitive that information from the rest of the Universe will literally pour from the sky.

Once these data-intensive telescopic beasts come online the challenge for astronomers will no longer be to find the needle in the haystack, but to remove the hay from the pile of needles and choose which are the most likely to further our understanding of the cosmos.

To tackle this data challenge head on, two organisations on opposite sides of the planet have joined forces.

Artist's impression of SKA dishes

Artist's impression of some of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) dishes. The SKA will produce copious amounts of data that will need to be sifted carefully.

The LSST Corporation in the United States and the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in Perth, Western Australia have signed an agreement to work together on designing common database systems for optical and radio astronomy and research tools that will enable direct comparisons of objects discovered by these optical and radio telescopes.

“This collaboration will give us a great head start in preparing for the enormous data challenges of the SKA and will allow scientists access to both optical and radio data to probe the Universe across all wavelengths,” said ICRAR Director Prof. Peter Quinn

The LSST was ranked the number one project in the US by the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey conducted in 2010.

“Once you have separated the incoming data into sources and objects, it makes little difference to the system if the signal is at optical or radio wavelengths,” said Jeff Kantor, Data Management Project Manager.

“So it makes sense to join forces with ICRAR to find data processing solutions for the enormous databases that will be generated by both of these amazing telescopes.”

Using supercomputers located at the new Pawsey Centre in Perth, ICRAR’s Professor Andreas Wicenec is heading up the international team designing data systems for the SKA radio telescope.

“We expect to detect more than 100 billion objects, which is at least 10 times more than we’ve observed in the last 400 years of astronomy,” said Professor Wicenec. “This represents an immense challenge but potentially huge scientific reward

Adapted from information issued by ICRAR. Images courtesy SPDO / Swinburne Astronomy Productions / Todd Mason, Mason Productions / LSST Corp.

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Aussie astronomy supercomputer in Top 100

Photo of POD in-situ at iVEC@Murdoch.

The POD supercomputer at the iVEC computing centre at Murdoch University. It has been ranked at number 87 in the world league table of supercomputers.

  • First stage of supercomputer ranks number 87 in the world
  • When finished it will be 15 times faster still
  • Will support advanced research using the Square Kilometre Array telescope

Western Australia has entered the prestigious ranks of the top 100 supercomputers on the planet, thanks to the installation of a Performance Optimised Data Centre (POD) at iVEC’s Murdoch facility.

iVEC is an advanced computer centre in Perth. It is a joint venture between CSIRO, Curtin University of Technology, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and The University of Western Australia and is supported by the Western Australian Government.

A global gauge of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, the prestigious Top 500 List has embraced the Hewlett- Packard (HP)-developed POD, which takes its place at number 87 following its delivery to iVEC@Murdoch.

Only one other Australian supercomputer ranks above the POD in the Top 500 list, with the National Computational Infrastructure facility in Canberra coming in at #51.

The POD is Stage 1A of the $80M Pawsey Centre project, commissioned under the Commonwealth government’s $1.1 billion Super Science Initiative to establish a petascale supercomputing facility.

Artist's impression of the SKA

Artist's impression of the core of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope network. It will be one the largest scientific facilities ever made.

The Pawsey Centre was established with the primary role of hosting new high performance computing facilities and expertise to support SKA (Square Kilometre Array) research and other high-end science.

The SKA will be a huge network of radio telescope antennae, and will be one of the world’s largest scientific facilities. Two regions are bidding for the rights to host the facility: a joint Australia-New Zealand big, and a consortium of countries in southern Africa.

The secondary goal of the Pawsey Centre is to demonstrate Australia’s ability to deliver and support world-class advanced ICT infrastructure and therefore strengthen Australia’s bid to host the SKA, which is critically dependant on advanced ICT.

When complete in early 2013, the final Pawsey Centre’s facilities are expected to operate up to 15 times faster than the POD, and will eventually see it climb to the top echelon of the world’s supercomputing centres and establish Australia’s commitment to supercomputing.

“Australian scientists are now generating massive amounts of experimental data in computationally demanding areas such as radioastronomy, nanoscience, geoscience and life science,” says iVEC@Murdoch Associate Director, Professor Matthew Bellgard.

Adapted from information issued by iVEC / ICRAR / CSIRO.

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