The world’s largest telescope will be the Square Kilometer Array, and when it starts peering into radio waves emanating from the skies, it will generate 1,000,000 terabytes of data each day. All of this data needs to be processed, and IBM is building a supercomputer to handle it.
1,000,000 terabytes, or one exabyte, is a lot of information, and it will be generated by 15,000 small antennas and 77 larger stations. The main focus of the Square Kilometer Array is to shed light on the origins of the Big Bang. One exabyte a day, that’s twice as much information as there is traffic on the Internet each day.
The software used to process this amount of data is called aperture synthesis. This kind of analysis mixes signals from a wide variety of telescopes to produce images that have the same angular resolution as the size of the entire collection of telescopes. At each separation and orientation, the lobe-pattern of the interferometer will produce an output that is a component of the Fourier transform of the spatial distribution of the brightness of the observed objects.
IBM has announced that it will invest $43 million into developing a supercomputer to handle this task. The supercomputer will have to be operational within 12 years, when the Square Kilometer Array goes live.
I always marvel at technology like this. Not merely because of the intellectual, financial,and manufacturing prowess behind it, but even more inn the realization that an exabyte a day still gives us but a tiny glimpse of the universe. How grand is this place we call home!