Home Space Aussie technology developed for ‘world’s largest’ single-dish radio telescope

Aussie technology developed for ‘world’s largest’ single-dish radio telescope

The world’s largest filled single-dish radio telescope has been launched in Western Australia, incorporating an innovative data system developed at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy (ICRAR) in Perth and the European Southern Observatory, to manage the huge amounts of data that will be generated by the telescope.

The telescope — known as FAST — uses the Next Generation Archive System (NGAS), and will help astronomers to search for rotating neutron stars and look for signs of extra-terrestrial life.

FAST, or the Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope, is so large it had to be built into a valley in the Guizhou province in south-west China.

The NGAS data system will help to collect, transport and store about three petabytes of information a year.

“That’s a hundred thousand 32GB iPods filled every year,” said Professor Andreas Wicenec, who heads ICRAR’s ICT programme and helped design the data system.

“Getting that kind of capacity is not too hard anymore but the main challenge is transporting so much data and having the network bandwidth to move it around.”

Professor Wicenec says FAST will be one of the most sensitive telescopes ever built, and the huge amounts of data produced will allow astronomers to map hydrogen gas in the Milky Way, hunt for rotating neutron stars known as pulsars and look for signals from extra-terrestrial intelligence.

FAST is an official pathfinder to the multi-billion dollar Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope, to be built in Western Australia and South Africa.

Professor Wicenec says China marks the “latest conquest” for the NGAS data system, which is already used on telescopes including the European Southern Observatory, the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Murchison Widefield Array in outback Western Australia.

“For us, it’s quite exciting to install NGAS on yet another telescope because the system is now being used all around the world.

“China is one of the few regions we hadn’t covered yet,” Professor Wicenec concludes.

The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia with support and funding from the Western Australian government, and ICRAR’s Data Intensive Astronomy team, based at the University of Western Australia, is leading the international effort to address the challenges surrounding the flow of data within the SKA observatory.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).