“Computing challenges for ASKAP and the SKA”

Dr Matthew Whiting1

1CSIRO, Epping, Australia


Radio astronomy is experiencing a rapid increase in the computing requirements for data processing, driven by new technologies allowing wide fields of view and large frequency bandwidths. CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope, located in the radio-quiet Murchison Radio Observatory in the mid-west of Western Australia, exemplifies this trend. It is characterised by the revolutionary Phased Array Feed (PAF) receivers, designed & built at CSIRO, that allow multiple beams to be formed on the sky, resulting in a wide instantaneous sky coverage. This also results, however, in very large data rates, or up to 10TB/hour, requiring high-performance computing to create the images and catalogues used by astronomers. ASKAP has been operating for several years now in its early array form, successfully using the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre to run the processing pipelines and store the resulting data products for scientific use. ASKAP is in the process of being expanded out to its full capabilities, and there are numerous challenges involved in ensuring the processing is able to meet both operational and scientific requirements.

Even ASKAP’s large data rates will be dwarfed by those expected from the Square Kilometre Array. This is a global project, involving telescopes in South Africa and Western Australia, that is soon to begin construction and will gradually come online over the next decade. SKA processing will have an even greater reliance on high-performance processing, and will required a tiered approach to the data analysis, with some science-oriented processing being performed by science teams through so-called SKA Regional Science Centres.

In this workshop, we will aim to discuss some of the challenges presented by the current instruments, for both processing and archiving of data, based on practical experience at the Pawsey Centre and planned upgrades to the telescope in the short-to-medium term. We will also cover plans for SKA processing, both for the immediate online processing and for the analysis of data through Regional Centres. We will look at the likely roadmap for high-performance computing over this time-period, and what this means for processing capabilities.

The workshop will be a mix of presentations and discussion sessions, and input is welcome from outside the astronomical community as well.


Matthew Whiting is acting Group Leader for ATNF Science, part of CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science, leading a group responsible for research and science operations within the Australia Telescope National Facility. He has a PhD in astrophysics from University of Melbourne, and a career of working in astronomy and astronomical computing. Matthew leads the development of the processing pipelines for CSIRO’s ASKAP telescope and is a member of the small software team responsible for the high-performance calibration & imaging software for ASKAP.

He is also the sole developer of the widely-used Duchamp source-finding software, designed for 3D astronomical spectral-line surveys. He works closely with the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and is a member of Astronomy Australia Limited’s Astronomy e-Research Advisory Committee.


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