What exactly is your computer doing when it’s donating to theSkyNet?
To start theSkyNet will be used as a ‘Source Finder.’ So, your computer will be scanning data from telescopes and searching for sources of radiation at radio wavelengths that could be coming from stars, galaxies and other objects throughout the Universe.
The data theSkyNet is processing will come from a range of projects.
Credit: B.S. Korabalski and the HIPASS team/CSIRO ATNF
So we can prove how good theSkyNet is (its reliability and accuracy) the first task will be to process data that many others have analysed before. By comparing the results generated by theSkyNet with the results of others we’ll show that the code and algorithms under the hood of theSkyNet are working away like the well-oiled machine we know it is.
The data chosen for this purpose is the HI Parkes All Sky Survey (or HIPASS), taken from observations of the Southern sky made by the famous Parkes radio telescope (see Radio Astronomy in the Resources section for more details). HIPASS is a survey of all the hydrogen gas that Parkes could see in the Southern sky.
Once the accuracy and reliability of theSkyNet has been demonstrated we’ll be ready to begin the work of processing new data sets and refining the source finding techniques for radio astronomers.
The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) is a next-generation radio telescope currently being built in the West Australian desert. When complete it’ll be one of the world’s best radio telescopes (for more info see ASKAP in the Resources section.)
Courtesy of the Department of Commerce, Western Australia
Once ASKAP starts observing the Universe, data will start to flow from it at an alarming rate. Supercomputers faster than anything available to astronomers at the moment will be needed to sift through all the data, and theSkyNet aims to help out. Once theSkyNet has proven itself by processing the HIPASS data, cubes of ASKAP data will be simulated, artificially populated with radio sources and made ready for processing. theSkyNet will then process these cubes of data to prepare for ASKAP’s completion. This will allow ICRAR researchers to figure out and overcome the challenges in managing, processing and extracting science from ASKAP before ASKAP starts operation, so everything is ready to go from the beginning.
During ASKAP’s first five years at least 75% of its time will be used to survey large parts of the sky for large Survey Science projects. ASKAP’s unique design makes it perfect for observing large areas of the sky very quickly over and over again, in search of the ‘flash in the pan’ that might mean a new discovery. At the moment ten of these survey projects are planned. Some of them, including two named DINGO and WALLABY, involve ICRAR’s researchers.
As the telescope becomes operational, supercomputers located in and around Perth will begin processing the huge volumes of data that begin to flow. As such, there will be a big demand for supercomputers from scientists wishing to process their data in different ways to suit specific science goals, which is where theSkyNet comes in.
By having theSkyNet available this data can be processed in many different ways which means scientists can experiment and make discoveries that might not have been possible otherwise!
DINGO is a deep HI survey that will use the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) to study hydrogen gas, like HIPASS, but look much further out into space. The aim is to study the evolution (changes in structure and location) of the neutral atomic hydrogen from now back a few billion years until the Universe was only two thirds as old as it is now (about 9 billion years old.) DINGO will study a few key areas of the sky and observe each area for a longer time to peer further out into the Universe.
WALLABY will adopt a shallower `all-sky’ approach than DINGO, so it will look at larger sections of sky, but not see as far away. It will survey two-thirds of our Southern sky and measure the neutral atomic hydrogen properties of about half a million galaxies, which is more than any other survey!
Why all the animal names?
Astronomers have some pretty uninspired acronyms (such as the VLA, Very Large Array, a big array of radio telescopes in the USA) and yet sometimes the acronyms are a real stretch (like BOOJUMS, Blue Objects Observed Just Undergoing Moderate Starbursts, a survey named from a Lewis Carroll poem.) An astronomer even keeps a page listing some of the best (or worst, depending on your point of view.) So, it’s not really all that surprising that the surveys that will use ASKAP have some funny acronyms of their own.
DINGO stands for ‘Deep Investigation of Neutral Gas Origins’ and WALLABY comes from ‘Widefield ASKAP L-band Legacy All-sky Blind surveY’ (yep, don’t ask us how they get away with using the last letter of a word for the acronym!)
Some other ASKAP surveys are:
- EMU (Evolutionary Map of the Universe),
- POSSUM (Polarization Sky Survey of the Universe’s Magnetism),
- FLASH (First Large Absorption Survey in HI),
- VAST (An ASKAP Survey for Variables and Slow Transients),
- CRAFT (The Commensal Real-time ASKAP Fast Transients survey),
- GASKAP (the Galactic ASKAP Spectral Line Survey) and
- COAST (Compact Objects with ASKAP: Surveys and Timing.)