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SOFTWARE TELESCOPE: Steven Tingay says most of the complexity and cost is sunk into supercomputing. Photo: Curtin University

Supercomputers power radio telescope projects

AS Western Australia moves a step closer to the construction of its part of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, the supercomputers behind the scenes are set to provide flow-on benefits to commercial and research interests.

Testing has already begun at the Murchison Widefield Array, a precursor to the SKA, which aims to be the first radio telescope to look back into the first billion years of the universe. It will be fully operational in December.

The two array projects rely on highly sophisticated supercomputers, which enable research teams to conduct experiments with greater complexity and speed.

This technology can also find applications in commercial settings hungry for data crunching, such as finance and resources exploration.

Located 800 kilometres north of Perth in the shire of Murchison, the MWA consists of 2,000 fixed antennas that will use an IBM supercomputer to process the images.

“This is where we depart from traditional radio astronomy because we sink the majority of our complexity and cost into the supercomputing rather than a big dish, we call it a software telescope,” Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy director Steven Tingay said.

Most of the budget spent on traditional radio telescopes goes towards the concrete and steel construction of the dish.

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