A little more than a decade from now, one of the world's great arid plains will become a bustling intersection of high-resolution astronomy and high-powered computing. Scrub land in either South Africa or Australia will host the biggest telescope ever, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), designed to listen to the oldest birth pangs of the universe. And the brains of the operation will likely be the world's most powerful supercomputer.
The next generation of major scientific instruments will require a whole new information architecture, both for processing and data transfer and for storage. So the future of astronomy is closely tied to the future of computing.
To interlace these futures even more tightly, IBM today announced a new $43 million (€32 million) center connected to its research base in Zurich, where computer scientists hope to design and build the first low-power exascale computer systems.
The Square Kilometer Array will consist of thousands of radio antennas spread across an area the size of a continent, with a collecting area equivalent to one square kilometer. It will study dark energy, search for black holes, look for complex organic molecules in interstellar space, and look back to the cosmic Dark Ages — the time before the formation of the first stars. Along with a massive virtual field of view, all this work requires lots of computing power.
Take the current global daily Internet traffic and multiply it by two, and you start to approach the stupendous scales of data the Square Kilometre Array will churn out daily — about an exabyte per day. This vastly outpaces the state of the art in computing, notes Ton Engbersen of IBM Research in Zurich. "The area you would need for PCs is larger than the SKA," he said.
Depending on how the SKA is designed and how data transfer questions are solved, it will require between two and 30 exaflops, he said. The design parameters are still being hammered out, but the first phases of construction are scheduled to start in 2016. The site in either Australia or Africa (with most of the dishes in South Africa, and others scattered in different countries from Botswana to Zambia) is expected to be announced later this month. The $2 billion project is not planned to be completed until 2024.
Data from something as enormous as SKA is a challenge on several levels, and aside from industry efforts, researchers like Andreas Wicenec are trying to figure it out in pieces. Wicenec is head of computing at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in the state of Western Australia and part of his job is figuring out how to store all of the SKA's data. It's equivalent to 15 million iPods a day, he noted.
"You have to plan for the whole thing in one go. What is currently called exascale computing is not just an exaflop computer; that is the storage flow, too," he said. "They have to be built up in parallel."
He is researching how to increase bandwidth among GPUs to transfer data more quickly, and how to keep these monstrous computers cool to lower power needs. This will be especially important in the deserts of South Africa or Western Australia.
"We have to decrease power consumption by a factor of 10 to 100 to be able to pay the power bill for such a machine," he said.
IBM researchers have some ideas, according to Engbersen. The company wants to build on its prior research using phase-change memory, which you can read more about here, and its work on 3-D chip architectures, which can transfer data more efficiently and keep things cool. He envisions a stack of 100 chips, nestled one on top of each other — with such an architecture, the SKA could theoretically have supercomputers the size of sugar cubes.
Data downloads can be made more efficient, too — Engbersen notes that when you open a document, you normally look at the first few pages before you scroll down all the way. This can work for astronomers too, perhaps, downloading a few "pages" or bits of data at a time.
IBM's research center will be located in the Netherlands, in collaboration with ASTRON, which is planning the SKA, and the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy.
New system designs stemming from the SKA effort could translate to other Big Data fields, Engbersen said. But the real payoff will be huge for astronomy.
With SKA, astronomers will have a constant, real-time all-sky radio survey, which could help uncover some of the strangest phenomena in the cosmos. Current radio astronomy is powerful, but a full-sky survey is still limited to about 10 arc seconds. That's a tiny slice of sky — for comparison, this month the planet Venus, at its super-bright huge disc, is between 25 and 37 arc seconds in diameter. Optical sky surveys, which started in the early 20th century with photographic plates, are fairly high-resolution, more like 1 arc second. "If you want a similar resolution with radio telescopes, you have to go to the SKA scale," Wicenec said.
The SKA's lengthy construction timeframe will help the telescopes, computers and storage facilities grow together, Wicenec said.
"It is really relying on the fact that technology is improving at a certain rate," he said.
Quantium computing to the rescue!
Playing Devil's Advocate since 1978
"The only constant in the universe is change"
-Heraclitus of Ephesus 535 BC - 475 BC
Wonder how much of that data will be tossed because the great prophets of naturalism wont be able to fit it into their dogma.
I love to see this design and built in good old USA! I suppose for the reduce background noise it might seem more opportunistic in this other countries, but that could be just an engineering obstacle to overcome, perhaps. Do we need to keep putting USA dollars over seas?
Technically for computer and space science it seems really cool!
See life in all its beautiful colors, and
from different perspectives too!
Who gets to build these radio telescopes? Who's army of programmers gets to refine data acquisition in the time before it begins to do things on it's own? The article makes it seem as though our only interest in it flows through IBM. $43 mil? For sustained exaflop computation and the storage banks to support it? So, if that's all the cash it takes, why don't We The People have hundreds of these being built today? This doesn't make sense from the standpoint of an honest person.
Could someone that is an honest person tell me why every bank on the planet doesn't buy a few of these at 50 or 60 mil a pop? And then please tell me why; if this is what they cost, don't they already exist? If they would have cost 300 billion a pop three years ago; then why don't they already exist? The numbers, in straight losses, would seem to indicate that the expense is totally justified......unless the numbers we are told are lies.
I think you are reading a few sentences wrong and making assumptions.
I believe the "Center" will cost $43 Million dollars, which will connect to the lower power exascale computer systems. (They never actually say here the cost of this system).
Later in the article they say the project will cost $2 Billion for the project. I think the computers in that cost somewhere in the fine print and is probably a lot......
Oh, I still think it be great, if this was all done in some remote area of good old USA and we keep jobs, hardware and USA dollars in USA! Don't we already have a problem with to much of our USA moving abroad and our USA dollars too?
Take care. ;)
See life in all its beautiful colors, and
from different perspectives too!
Space, I certainly see your point and mildly empathize with it. The only problem with the U.S. is that there are so many people living in it. People generally rely on certain infrastructure (Internet, Radio, Television, etc.) to live the comfortable life that is the American way. The problem that this poses is that it creates electromagnetic intereference in the form of, but not limited to, radio waves. Since this is an extremely large radio telescope, this intereference would distort the data and skew the image. This array will span nearly 2,000 miles in each direction from a central core, and while there is enough room physically for the array to be built, there is no way to ensure the proper isolation from sources of interference. For this reason, these telescopes are generally built in remote areas, far from population centers. Since the western area of Australia is rather devoid of population centers, it has a low incidence of interference and is therefore a much better choice for the construction of this array than the U.S. is.
My source for the dimensions of the array is another article by PopSci, address below.
Will you need any highly experience Electronic Technicians that can trouble shoot to component level, plus Computer Network Administrative, unnaatural nonfear of hights, loves the outdoors and warm weather and adventure and has 25 years experience, excellent health, hmmmmmm?!?!?!
Science sees no further than what it can sense, i.e. facts.
Religion sees beyond the senses, i.e. faith.
Open your mind and see!
The brainiac who is harping on USA dollars going over seas apparently doesn't realize that consumers are the ones who send them there, by buying the cheapest products we can buy... cheap products can't be made where people have high wages, and so production that was once here, goes overseas to meet our wants.
Buy American Made products and jobs will come back. Spend $150 on a pair of New Balance shoes... buy Lodge Cast Iron. Buy from the All American Clothing Co. based in Ohio....
Yes, products made here cost more money, because our workers demand higher wages... Do it. Support our Nation's economy and support each other with your money.
I'm doing it, as much as I can, and I'm on Social Security Disability due to being an amputee. My government money, your tax dollars, are going right back to YOU, the American worker....
Good morning Mr. Shutterpod.
I think you are referring to me. When I go to the store I consider two things, of course quality and yes price. I simply do not search to see where it came from. I work for a living just like you and my money means something to me. Be fair too. As you go shopping today, do you read all the labels of the products you pick up. I be willing the majoring of people shopping never look to see where it came from.
There is a lot that influence why and what the prices are as products come over seas. Other countries charge us tariffs\taxes and we do the same. We limit barging what can be sold overseas and they do the same to us.
Unions in our country with their power hold up much wages and so this labor cost forces up our home products. Still, labors have their positive points too.
In my life time I will not be shopping for a massive solar dish array and the world’s best IBM computer to process this data. This project will cost an estimated $2 billion. Will you be buying this?
I think of all the people of USA as family too. In that we must always protect and care for family.
I should like to see all this hardware be manufactured from USA and all the cost of labor be paid towards USA workers. Have you read the unemployment in USA? Do you care about it?
They say we have a shortage of USA scientist and engineers in USA. This would be a project to encourage more students towards science and engineering.
I sure like to see that SUPER IBM computer stay home in USA and not sit in some body else’s back yard overseas. All this electronics is going to use a lot of electricity. I sure like to see the cost of it and USA dollars stay home in this cost.
I really understand David Brony point and in choice it will probably just end up overseas of complete technical practicality.
I also see some of your points too. Take care.
See life in all its beautiful colors, and
from different perspectives too!
I'd rather see that kind of computing power go toward curing diseases, creating new sources of energy and feeding the hungry. But, I guess its important to find farts in other galaxies.
The SKA is funded by 24 organisations from 12 countries. I do not know to what extent the USA is involved, but it is certainly not a hometown effort. If it was built in the US
would undoubtedly end up 10 times the budgeted cost, and eventually shelved because some fundamentalist member of congress would declare it a "work of the devil".
The sites are being chosen because of their "radio silence" I presume there are no areas in the US that meet the
required conditions, I don't think it was even seriously considered. South Africa is deemed to have an advantage because of low building cost. Australia prides itself of its political stability. IBM is in the running with computer technology, but I would not think that anything has been decided. They might build the computer in China ( after all most computers are built there). An exaflop computer has not been built yet and it would be a major milestone if it gets built for this project.
The large hadron collider could also do with one. I hope they make their decisions soon and start with it, would like to read about some results while I am still around.
@Snerdguy: I understand your concern, but if I understand your point correctly it's in who funds what.
If the people who are interested in systems like this choose to fund it, they find money to do so from sources both private and government. In the end, everyone benefits from pure science as it provides insights that are relevant to applied science, then to design and engineering products or services that directly benefit people. NASA, using one example, has given us many technologies that we use every day, and most or all were the end result of something that began as pure science, that is to say, science for the sake of science.
I think the common concern that many have, and you may be among them, understandably, is that we've let the budget-shrinkers define how science and its benefits are perceived among those who benefit from it. And we all benefit from it in one way or another. Part of this is that scientists have often done little to explain the correlation between the $1B spent on pure science, for example, and how that eventually benefits all. A few scientists, Carl Sagan, Bill Nye notably, Michio Kaku, Brian Cox, and others, have tried to be the public faces for science, but they're too few and usually relegated to small-audience cable channels in favor of the newest idiot-with-a-chainsaw-and-.45 main TV network pablum. We, as Americans, have stopped being interested in science and what it does for us and have pushed it off to the back burners so that we can watch Jersey Shore boil over on the front burners. We've also let the media ruin science's reputation, in many cases. We've allowed the media to run report something as fact that has only been theorized. Then scientists take it in the nut sack although all they've done wrong was...nothing; they had a idea, published it in order to get the needed $$$ to test their theories, finally got the $$$, and the idea proved to be wrong. So what happens then? The same media starts the 5 o'clock report off with the headline "Scientists prove wrong; waste taxpayers money!!". Which is a load of crap.
In the end, it's perception. You and some others have been persuaded to believe that scientists waste money on this or that. Does it ever happen? Sure, they're human. But the VAST majority of science does good, and does it for everyone. Look around you. Look at the science right in front of you as you read this. This isn't just a computer or phone you're reading it on, it's a COLLECTION of VERY HIGH TECHNOLOGY (and a few low-tech) IDEAS which have come together because a group or groups of concerned, committed, conscientious scientists and engineers worked their butts off for YEARS to first gain the knowledge needed to do this science, and then to work their butts off for YEARS to actually do it.
Your pastors, for the most part, won't understand this. TV commentators, for the most part, won't understand this. 95% of the people who use it won't understand this. But YOU probably will, because you're smart enough to visit this site and learn about science.
If you prevent me from doing THIS science about THIS thing, what's to stop ME from stopping YOU from doing THAT science about THAT thing? That's the real slippery slope that TV commentators talk about, although they won't understand it, either.
Put it this way: If the flat-Earth, Sun-revolves-around-the-Earth crowd had had their way, we would have no space program. No space program, no NASA. No NASA, no velcro. No velcro, half the blue-haired crowd in Arizona and south Florida wouldn't be able to tie their shoes...and then where would we be? ;)
Who neede CERN and the Large Hadron Collider..?There is only one particle ! This is the QUANTOM. Its capabilities are infinite. It has absolute velocity, and can traverse the entire Universe in Pico seconds. By reading this,you are observing the Quantom in action.
During its travels the Quantom pauses momentarily at
absolutely "every point" in the Universe . This is called
a "Quantom dwell". Everything we observe is an illusion, generated by Quantom Dwells. Your automoble is merely a series of Quantom Dwells. Even The Large Hadron Collider is made from Quantom Dwells This Screen is a series of Quantom Dwells. The Quantom is exceptionally illusive. Should you happen on a lone Quantom, it will immediatly exhibit its capabilities by momentarily dissapearing and re-appearing at the same position. During that breief time the Quantom has traversed every point in the Universe.. There appears to be lots of Quantoms, but there is only one. The illusion that there are more than one Quantom is generated via the
Quantoms infinite velocity. Even the two farthest most Quantoms in the Universe are one and the same.KW
WOW! You must be a genius! I'm sure you've already submitted your article to Nature and Science magazines. Your proof must be remarkable. Can you enlighten PopSci with your equations that you surely have?