World's most massive supercomputer needed for colossal space telescope

One groups says think more than 15 million iPods worth of power and storage according

The world's biggest planned radio telescope will need the world's most massive supercomputer to crunch its data - think more than 15 million iPods worth of power and storage according to one of the group's developing systems for the ambitious project.

The International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia -- is working with the Canadian Astronomical Data Centre (CADC) to possibly build the systems that will work with the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope venture.

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Currently under development by an international consortium with site selection expected this year, the SKA telescope will be massive.  Depending on who wins the bid to build it, the telescope will generally include 3,000 dish-shaped antennae and other hybrid receiving technologies dishes spread over a collecting area of about 3,000 kilometers, making it 50--100 times more sensitive than today's best radio telescopes and cover the frequencies 0.15 to 30 GHz (2 m to 1 cm wavelength).

The $2 billion SKA project will generate one exabyte -- more than 15 million iPods -- of raw data a day which would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to store using currently available technology, ICAR stated. Once the site if the project is selected -- either South Africa or Australia and New Zealand - construction is expected to begin in 2016.

"We're not just facing challenges in storing all that data but processing it into something useful," said ICRAR's head of computing, Professor Andreas Wicenec in a statement.  Wicenec said ICAR is looking to determine which parts  of the SKA computing system would be most costly to build and operate. "Even powering a computer big enough to manage the huge task needs to be researched and developed."

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In essence, what we are seeing is the evolution of telescopes away from the concrete and steel that forms the antennas and into the world of supercomputing, said Professor Brian Boyle of Australia's  Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, SKA director in a report by ABC Science. "The supercomputer is as much a part of the telescope as is the antenna. "All that data is transported from the SKA at speeds of 400 terabits per second across the continent - that's about ten times greater than global internet traffic today. Then it's processed by a super computer capable of doing one million, million, million operations per second - about one hundred times faster than the world's fastest super computer today," Boyle said.

SKA ultimately aims to search remote solar systems and learn more  learn more about the origin of the universe, nearly 14 billion years ago. Among other things, the SKA be able to see as far back as the birth of galaxies - before the first stars such as our sun formed - and detect objects even fainter and more distant than those picked up by NASA's orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, experts said.

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