Square Kilometer Array software tested on Chinese supercomputer

Astronomical software that will translate observations made by the world’s largest telescope into scientifically understandable data has been tested on the world’s second most powerful supercomputer.

During the tests, the prototype software that will eventually process data from the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope was run on 1,000 nodes of the Tianhe-2 supercomputer. This computer was the world’s fastest from June 2013 until June 2016, when it was overtaken by another Chinese machine.

“It is known as the SKA Science Data Processor, or the ‘brain’ of the telescope,” said Professor Andreas Wicenec, head of data intensive astronomy at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).

The software will help astronomers to find evidence of distant stars and galaxies in the amount of data generated by SKA. Once fully operational, the programme will be processing tens of millions of data items per second, using up to 10,000 nodes of the supercomputer.

It was the first test of the system that will provide the control and monitoring environment to execute millions of tasks, consuming and producing millions of data items on many thousands of individual computers.

Professor Wicenec said the novel execution framework of the science data processor is “data activated”, meaning individual data items are wrapped in an active piece of software that automatically triggers the applications needed to process it.

“Whenever a data item is ready, that’s triggering the next task - the task is not running idle, waiting for anything,” he said.

The test was carried out in cooperation with a team of Professor Tao An from Shanghai Astronomical Observatory in China.

“The next step is to ramp up the number of individual items we’re deploying and then increase the number of compute nodes to what we are expecting for the SKA computer, which is about 8,500,” An said.

The SKA is arguably the world’s largest science project, with the low frequency part of the telescope alone set to have more than a quarter of a million antennas facing the sky.

Each of the two SKA telescopes will produce enough data to fill a typical laptop hard drive every second.

The Tianhe-2 supercomputer located at China’s National Super Computing Center in Guangzhou has 16,000 computer nodes and can perform quadrillions of calculations per second.

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