Within 24 hours of entering the first phase of Australia’s newest supercomputing system, researchers have processed a series of radio telescope observations, including highly detailed images of the supernova’s remnant.
The extremely high data rates and huge data volumes of next-generation radio telescopes such as ASKAP (Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder) require powerful software running on supercomputers.
That’s where the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre comes into play, with a newly launched supercomputer called Setonix – named after Western Australia’s favourite animal, the quokka (short-nose sturgeon).
ASKAP consists of 36 dishes that work together as a telescope and is operated by Australia’s national science agency CSIRO; the observations it collects are transmitted via high-speed fibre to the Pawsey Centre for processing and conversion into scientifically usable images.
In a major milestone on the road to full deployment, we have now demonstrated the integration of our processing software ASKAPsoft on Setonix with stunning visuals.
Traces of the Dying Star
An exciting result of this exercise is a fantastic image of a cosmic object known as the supernova remnant G261.9+5.5.
Estimated to be over a million years old and 10,000-15,000 light-years away, this object in our galaxy was first classified as a supernova remnant radio by CSIRO radio astronomer Eric R. Hill in 1967 based on observations by CSIRO Parkes Spyglass, Muriyan.
A supernova remnant (SNR) is the remnant of a powerful explosion of a dying star. The material ejected from the explosion slid outward at supersonic speeds into the surrounding interstellar medium, sweeping away gas and any matter it encountered along the way, compressing and heating it in the process.
In addition, the shock wave compresses the interstellar magnetic field. The emissions we see in the 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 exploding star and the surrounding interstellar medium.
The structure of this remnant revealed in the deep ASKAP radio images opens up the possibility to study the physical properties of this remnant and the interstellar medium, such as the magnetic field and high-energy electron density, in unprecedented detail.
Let the supercomputer go through its paces
The image of SNR G261.9+05.5 may look pretty, but the processing of data from the ASKAP astronomical survey is also a great way to stress test supercomputer systems, both hardware and processing software.
We use the dataset of supernova remnants for our initial tests, as its complex features increase processing challenges.
Even data processing with supercomputers is a complex job, and different processing modes raise various potential problems. For example, SNR’s images are made by combining data collected at hundreds of different frequencies (or colors, if you will), allowing us to obtain a composite view of an object.
But there are also treasure troves of information hidden in each frequency. Extracting this information typically requires making images at each frequency, requiring more computational resources and more digital space to store.
While Setonix has the resources to do such intensive processing, a key challenge is establishing the stability of the supercomputer while processing such a large amount of data day in and day out.
The key to this quick first demonstration was the close collaboration between the Pawsey Center and members of the ASKAP Scientific Data Processing team. Our teamwork allows us all to better understand these challenges and find solutions quickly.
For example, these results mean that we will be able to mine more information from the ASKAP data.
More to come
But this is only the first of two installation phases for Setonix, the second of which is expected to be completed later this year.
This will allow data teams to process large amounts of data from many projects in a very short period of time. In turn, it will not only allow researchers to better understand our universe, but will undoubtedly uncover new objects hidden in the radio sky. Setonix will open up many possibilities by enabling us to explore a wide range of scientific questions in a much shorter period of time.
This increase in computing power will benefit not only ASKAP, but all Australian researchers in science and engineering who have access to Setonix.
While the supercomputer is fully operational, ASKAP is ramping up, and it is currently wrapping up a series of pilot surveys and will soon conduct a larger, deeper survey of the sky.
The supernova remnant is just one of many features we’re revealing right now, and we can expect more stunning images, as well as the discovery of many new objects, to come.
CSIRO Research Scientist Wasim Raja and Pascal Jahan Elahi, Supercomputing Applications Specialist, CSIRO’s Passi Centre for Supercomputing Research.
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