IBM is developing a computer which will digest twice as much information every day as the entire internet, sifting through radio waves from space in an effort to unravel the origin of the universe.
The huge computer will be attached to a 1,900 square mile array of telescope antenna, and will be built to “suck in” in radio telescope data which will “see” 13 billion years into the past, back to the dawn of the universe and the Big Bang.
IBM machine will be millions of times more powerful than the fastest PCs today – and will deal with 100 times more information than the output of the Large Hadron Collider.
Ton Engbersen of IBM resarch said: “If you take the current global daily Internet traffic and multiply it by two, you are in the range of the data set that the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope will be collecting every day.”
Upon completion in 2024, the telescope will be used to explore evolving galaxies, dark matter and even the very origins of the universe dating back more than 13 billion years.
IBM is to investigate using 3D “stacks” of computer chips to achieve the enormous computing power required by the Square Kilometre Array.
This extremely powerful survey telescope will have millions of antennas to collect radio signals, forming a collection area equivalent to one square kilometre but spanning a huge surface area – approximately the width of the continental United States.
The SKA will be 50 times more sensitive than any former radio device and more than 10,000 times faster than today’s instruments.
The SKA is expected to produce a few Exabytes of data per day for a single beam per one square kilometer. After processing this data the expectation is that per year between 300 and 1500 Petabytes of data need to be stored.
In comparison, the approximately 15 Petabytes produced by the large hadron collider at CERN per year of operation is approximately 10 to 100 times less than the envisioned capacity of SKA.
The directors of the SKA project are to meet in Amsterdam on 3 April to discuss the location of the huge telescope, scattered across 1,900 square miles of Earth’s surface.
It will start building in 2016.
“It will have a deep impact on the way we perceive our place in the universe and how we understand its history and its future,” said Michiel van Haarlem, interim director general of the SKA project.
“We know we are going to discover things.”
The SKA will consist of thousands of dishes across 1,900 miles, with a total surface area of one square kilometre, that will provide so much data that one astronomer has declared it will completely change our view of the universe.
The scientific community also believe that the SKA represents our best ever chance of finding out if there’s life beyond our solar system.
To do this will require ground-breaking technology. The SKA’s 15m-dishes, which will detect electromagnetic radiation emitted by objects in space, will be the most sensitive ever built – able to detect an airport radar on a planet 50 light years away.
These dishes will be complemented by low and medium frequency aperture arrays, which provide a large field of view and are capable of observing more than one part of the sky at once.
It will be carried on enough optical fibre cable of such quantity that it could be wrapped twice around the world.
As yet, a location for it hasn’t been decided, but Southern Africa and Australia are both n the reckoning.
They all offer areas with ideal conditions for telescopes, which must be well clear of electronic interference, such as that generated by mobile phones.
It’s hoped that construction will begin in 2016, with the dishes coming online eight years later.
A prototype of SKA called KAT-7, which consists of seven 16-metre dishes, is undergoing testing in South Africa’s Karoo desert.