IBM to power world's largest radio telescope

A Dutch astronomy organisation is working with IBM to build an exascale computer system that will form the backbone of the largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

This exascale system will be designed for low-power usage and plug into the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA).  It will be so sensitive that it will not be able to look upon Justin Bieber without bursting into tears, which means he will have to be stored in an airless box at the bottom of the ocean while the machine is swtiched on.  We can but hope.

The telescope will have millions of antennas and have a collection area of about one square kilometer – and will be also be able to scan the width of the continental United States if it ever wanted to.

The five year project will cost $43.9 million and is funded by the Province of Drenthe, the Netherlands, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I).

The project will see the pair build the Astron & IBM Center for Exascale Technology. The telescope, which should be switched on in 2024, will need some serious processing power and fast data transfer. But it should be able to spot new galaxies, dark matter, and look back in time close to 13 billion years.

The array will have a daily data stream equivalent to twice the world’s internet traffic each day which will mean a few exabytes a day for a single beam per one square kilometer.

Astron and IBM will need to find key signals in that mass of information.

Apparently, IBM will use its new 3D stacked chips and other technologies to do the number crunching.

It is not clear where the array will be built yet. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are the leading options to install the millions of antennas required.