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July 24, 2012

IBM Computing Cluster, New Generation Radio Telescope to Search for Weak Signals Coming from the Origins of the Universe

By Ashok Bindra, TMCnet Contributor

Australia’s Victoria University of Wellington, on behalf of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) Consortium, has selected IBM (News - Alert) computing cluster to help scientists probe the origins of the universe. The MWA is a new type of radio telescope designed to capture low frequency radio waves from deep space as well as the volatile atmospheric conditions of the Sun.

The effort is an international collaboration between 13 institutions from Australia, New Zealand, U.S. and India; IBM said that the signals captured by the telescope's 4,096 dipole antennas positioned in the Australian Outback in a continuous stream will be processed by an IBM iDataPlex dx360 M3 computing cluster. The computing system will convert the radio waves into wide-field images of the sky that are unprecedented in clarity and detail, said IBM.

According to IBM’s explanation, the iDataPlex cluster replaces MWA's existing custom-made hardware systems to enable greater flexibility and increased signal processing. The cluster is expected to process approximately 50 Terabytes (TB) of data per day at full data rate at a speed of eight Gigabytes per second (GBps), allowing scientists to study more of the sky faster than ever before, and with greater detail.

In a statement, Prof. Steven Tingay, MWA Project Director from the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University in Perth, said, "The MWA project is dependent on the massive computer power offered by IBM's iDataPlex to create real-time wide-field images of the radio sky." He added, "The combination of the MWA, IBM technology and the radio-quiet environment of the Murchison will allow us to search for the incredibly weak signals that come from the early stages in the evolution of the Universe, some 13 billion years ago."

The ultimate goal of the revolutionary $51 million MWA telescope is to observe the early Universe, when stars and galaxies were first born. By detecting and studying the weak radio signals emitted from when the Universe consisted of only a dark void of Hydrogen gas - the cosmic Dark Age - scientists hope to understand how stars, planets and galaxies were formed. In addition, the radio telescope will also be used by scientists to study the Sun's heliosphere during periods of strong solar activity and time-varying astronomical objects such as pulsars.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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