Turbotodd

Ruminations on IT, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Look To The Heavens

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If you’ve ever fancied yourself a sort of Walter Mitty-ish astronomer, you’re going to like this one.

IBM announced today that the Victoria University of Wellington, on behalf of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) Consortium, has selected IBM systems technology to help scientists probe the origins of the universe.

This effort is the result of an international collaboration between 13 institutions from Australia, New Zealand, U.S. and India.  The MWA is a new type of radio telescope designed to capture low frequency radio waves from deep space as well as the volatile atmospheric conditions of the Sun.

The signals will be captured by the telescope’s 4,096 dipole antennas positioned in the Australian Outback in a continuous stream and processed by an IBM iDataPlex dx360 M3 computing cluster that will convert the radio waves into wide-field images of the sky that are unprecedented in clarity and detail.

The IBM iDataPlex cluster will replace MWA’s existing custom-made hardware systems and will enable greater flexibility and increased signal processing.

The cluster is expected to process approximately 50 terabytes of data per day at full data rate at a speed of 8 gigabytes per second, the equivalent to over 2,000 digital songs per second, allowing scientists to study more of the sky faster than ever before, and with greater detail.

The ultimate goal of this revolutionary $51 million MWA telescope is to observe the early universe, when stars and galaxies were first born.

By detecting and studying the weak radio signals emitted from when the universe consisted of only a dark void of hydrogen gas — the cosmic “dark age” — scientists hope to understand how stars, planets and galaxies were formed. The telescope will also be used by scientists to study the sun’s heliosphere during periods of strong solar activity and time-varying astronomical objects such as pulsars.

The IBM iDataPlex cluster will be housed on-site in the Murchison Radio Observatory (MRO) site around 700 km north of Perth, near the radio telescope antennas.

With a 10 Gbps communications link to Perth, it will allow the images to be transferred and stored and made available for research. The MRO site will also be the Australian location for a significant portion of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope and is being co-hosted by Australia and South Africa.

The MWA project is led by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University and is one of three SKA precursor telescopes.

You can learn more about the MWA telescope here.

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