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AUT scientists to play key role in huge astronomy project

AUT scientists to play key role in huge astronomy project

One of the largest and most ambitious scientific projects in history – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project has entered its crucial design phase with scientists and engineers from AUT playing a pivotal role, supported by $983,000 of government co-funding.

This funding was provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

What is the SKA project?
The SKA will consist of thousands of dishes and literally millions of dipole radio receptors, with an effective collecting area of a square kilometre, making it 100 times as sensitive as the biggest present-day telescopes and image resolution quality 50 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The The SKA telescope will be co-located in Australia and in Africa.

The design phase
The international SKA organisation, a partnership of 11 countries, recently announced the experts leading the design packages.

AUT University will lead an international team from seven countries in the design phase of the project.

This includes scientists from ASTRON (Netherlands), CSIRO (Australia), INAF (Italy), Jet Propulsion Lab (NASA, US), KLAASA/ CETC-38 (China), National Research Council Canada, University of Oxford, STFC Rutherford Appleton lab (UK), Massey University, the University of Auckland, and Compucon NZ Ltd.

The work to be done on big data, high performance computing, green computing, modelling, algorithms and data processing will place New Zealand researchers at the forefront of global developments in these areas, which will yield a range of economic dividends.

AUT’s involvement
AUT’s Dr Andrew Ensor is leading the design of the Survey Correlator, which will combine the signals from all the receivers. The data volumes and computational requirements will be enormous – ten times that of the world’s fastest supercomputers today – and will require new high-performance computing and low-power technologies.

“The Survey Correlator represents New Zealand’s most substantive contribution, in terms of personnel and international collaboration, in the SKA project. It is also the largest area in which New Zealand will be taking a lead role,” Dr Ensor says.

AUT will also be contributing to the other major computing challenges posed by the SKA, as well as leading the modelling and some of the prototyping. *

AUT’s Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Institute for Radio Astronomy and Space Research, Sergei Gulyaev says that after almost a decade’s involvement with the SKA, he is incredibly excited about the beginning of the SKA design phase.

“The potential spinoffs from our SKA involvement are substantial, with benefits for cloud computing and data centres, computer graphics rendering and complex-scene motion capture, green computing, network communication and monitoring, improved radar and surveillance, and high-throughput data analysis such as environmental sensors.

“The Survey Correlator work closely aligns with the National Science Challenge, ‘Science for Technological Innovation’ and will help attract students into ICT and related technology fields. We appreciate the Government’s recognition of the project’s value.”

Oamaru-based software company, Open Parallel is also involved in two areas of the SKA, supported by AUT staff.

MBIE has also confirmed funding for a Victoria University-led group, for its involvement in the Science Analysis Pipeline Requirements.

*The University will also be involved with the design of the Science Data Processor (SDP). This consortium will focus on the design of the computing hardware platforms, software, and algorithms needed to process science data from the correlator or non-imaging processor into science data products.

More on the SKA project
The announcement of the design teams
The National Science Challenges


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