Record data processed by CSIRO's ASKAP telescope


By Technology Decisions Staff
Wednesday, 18 January, 2017


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The data now processed by a radio telescope in Western Australia’s outback is equivalent to around 15% of the world’s internet traffic.

CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope is capable of processing 5.2 terabytes of data per second.

It is part of a project involving 20 countries to create the world’s largest and most capable telescope, while answering fundamental scientific questions about the origins of the universe.

Situated 300 kilometres inland from Geraldton at one of the quietest places on earth, ASKAP is made of 36 identical 12-metre-wide dish antennas that all work together, 12 of which are currently in operation.

The telescope’s antennas feature innovative ‘phased array feed’ technology, specialised radio ‘cameras’ that look at a large area of sky at once.

Astronomers are using their observations to look for hydrogen gas, which is the raw material for making stars, in and around galaxies. This is the first step in making a census of hydrogen in galaxies far back in the history of the universe.

Until now, CSIRO astronomers had been taking data mainly to test how ASKAP performs. Having shown the telescope’s technical excellence, they have now started to gather data that will be used by international project teams for science.

The telescope data is processed on-site by a special-purpose computer then streamed to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth.

Turning the data into images was previously a process that could take several weeks, but ASKAP technology is able to carry out this task overnight.

The phased array feed technology has attracted international interest with CSIRO recently building one under contract for the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, and it will be supplying a second to Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK.

The data is then processed by CSIRO-developed software on the Galaxy supercomputer and recorded to disk, at the rate of 956 gigabytes for each 12-hour observation.

Thirty ASKAP antennas have been fitted with phased array feeds with the rest to follow in 2017.

In the second half of 2017, more than 350 astronomers from over 120 institutions will start to use ASKAP for 10 major survey science projects.

Data from ASKAP will complement surveys carried out with Australia’s leading optical telescopes, a synergy that gets the best scientific value from all the projects.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Pitris

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