The Square Kilometer Array (SKA), considered the largest radio telescope in the world (in fact it will be a network of several radio telescopes), an international project that will allow the analysis of the sky through radio waves and will also probe deep space. The heart of the project will be represented by a central processing plant that will have to offer very high performance as it is expected that this radio telescope will collect huge amounts of data every day.
This amount of data is so high that it has never been processed before, at least as far as the astronomical sector is concerned, and the researchers themselves do not hide the fact that they are worried about running into difficulties once the first data are obtained. And they can’t even carry out experiments because to process such large amounts of data you need very powerful supercomputers. At least until a few weeks ago. A team of researchers from various international institutes has in fact been able to use Summit, currently the most powerful supercomputer in the world, to simulate the processing of the amount of data that the SKA will provide.
Located at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, USA, this computer “offered a unique opportunity to test a simple SKA data stream at the scale we expect from the telescope array,” reports Andreas Wicenec, head of the Data Intensive Astronomy project at ICRAR. To simulate the data, the researchers used a particular open source operating system “designed to accelerate the simulations by increasing the efficiency of I/O operations and to facilitate data transfers between high-performance computing systems and other facilities”, as reported in the press release on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) website.
The simulations enabled researchers to process 2.6 petabytes of data at 247 gigabytes per second. This is an amount of data that requires a lot of processing power and thousands of graphics processing units in order to extract useful results. When the real radio telescope is in operation, it will be able to receive radio waves from other galaxies and various other objects of interest, data that will help astronomers themselves to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the universe.