Within 24 hours of accessing the first phase of Australia’s newest supercomputer system, researchers processed a series of radio telescope observations, including a highly detailed image of a supernova remnant.
The very high data rates and the enormous data volumes of new generation radio telescopes such as ASKAP
(opens in new tab) (Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder) need very capable software running on supercomputers. This is where the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Center comes into play, with a newly launched supercomputer called Setonix (opens in new tab) – named after Western Australia’s favorite animal, the quokka (opens in new tab) ( Setonix brachyurus).
ASKAP, which consists of 36 satellite dishes working together as one telescope, is operated by Australia’s national science agency CSIRO; the observational data it collects is transferred via high-speed optical fibers to the Pawsey Center for processing and conversion into science-ready images.
As an important milestone towards full implementation, we have now demonstrated the integration of our processing software ASKAPsoft on Setonix, complete with stunning visuals.
Related: Why Dead Stars Explode: The Mechanism Behind Supernova Explosions Traces of a dying star
An exciting result of this exercise was a fantastic image of a cosmic object known as a supernova remnant, G261.9+5.5
(opens in new tab).
Estimated to be over a million years old and located 10,000-15,000 light-years away, this object in our galaxy was first classified
(opens in new tab) as a supernova remnant by CSIRO radio astronomer Eric R. Hill in 1967, using observations from CSIRO’s Parkes Radio Telescope, Murriyang (opens in new tab).
Supernova remnants (SNRs) are the remains of powerful explosions from dying stars. The ejected material from the explosion plows out into the surrounding interstellar medium at supersonic speeds, sweeping up gas and any material it encounters along the way, compressing and heating it in the process.
In addition, the shock wave would also compress the interstellar magnetic fields. The emissions we see in our radio image of G261.9+5.5 come from high-energy electrons trapped in these compressed fields. They contain information about the history of the exploded star and aspects of the surrounding interstellar medium.
The structure of this remnant, revealed in the deep ASKAP radio image, opens up the possibility of studying this remnant and the physical properties (such as magnetic fields and high-energy electron densities) of the interstellar medium in unprecedented detail.
The new supercomputer is named after the iconic quokka. Credit: Chia Chuin Wong/Shutterstock Putting a supercomputer to the test
The image of SNR G261.9+05.5 may be nice to look at, but processing data from ASKAP’s astronomy studies is also a great way to stress the supercomputing system, including the hardware and processing software.
We included the dataset of the supernova remnant for our first tests because its complex features would add to the processing challenges.
Data processing, even with a supercomputer, is a complex exercise, with different processing modes causing different potential problems. For example, the image of the SNR was created by combining data collected at hundreds of different frequencies (or colors, if you will), allowing us to get a composite image of the object.
But there is also a wealth of information hidden in the individual frequencies. Extracting that information often requires images to be created at each frequency, requiring more computer resources and more digital space to store.
Although Setonix has sufficient resources for such intensive processing, it would be a major challenge to achieve the stability of the supercomputer when it is loaded with such huge amounts of data day in and day out.
Key to this rapid first demonstration was the close collaboration between the Pawsey Center and the members of the ASKAP science data processing team. Our teamwork enabled us all to better understand these challenges and quickly find solutions.
For example, these results allow us to get more out of the ASKAP data.
More to come
But this is only the first of two installation phases for Setonix, with the second expected to be completed later this year.
This allows data teams to process more of the massive amounts of data coming in from many projects in a fraction of the time. In turn, it will not only enable researchers to better understand our universe, but will undoubtedly discover new objects hidden in the radio sky. The variety of scientific questions Setonix will have us explore in a shorter amount of time opens up so many possibilities.
This increase in computing capacity benefits not only ASKAP, but all Australia-based researchers in all fields of science and engineering who have access to Setonix.
While the supercomputer is running at full blast, so is ASKAP, which is currently completing a series of pilot studies and will soon conduct even larger and deeper studies of the sky.
The remnant of the supernova is just one of many features we’ve now revealed, and we can expect many more stunning images and the discovery of many new celestial objects soon.
This article was republished from The Convers
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