The greatest map ever made

Research is increasingly conducted using massive and complex collections of data — indeed, some research questions cannot be answered without them.

Analysing such large and complex datasets is a challenge, but that is where the Australian National University (ANU) fully robotic SkyMapper Telescope can help.

This telescope is producing data for the Southern Sky Survey — the world’s most detailed map of the Southern Hemisphere sky.

During its five-year survey, SkyMapper will generate 100 megabytes of data per second, or up to 500 terabytes of data at the end of the survey — equivalent to 100,000 standard DVDs. Analysing such a large and complex dataset requires the significant power of a world-leading supercomputing system.

How does the National Computational Infrastructure facility help?

The SkyMapper data will help researchers map the dark matter that makes up the majority of our galaxy, and shed light on the first quasars and stars to form in the history of the universe.

The National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) facility’s supercomputer — named Raijin after the Shinto god of thunder, lightning and storms — is capable of performing more than a petaflop, or more than one quadrillion operations, every second. The NCI is supported by the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).

Raijin is the most powerful supercomputer in Australia, and was the 24th most powerful in the world when it was installed in late 2012.

Raijin provides access to capability computing, allowing researchers to execute demanding calculations too large to be processed by smaller systems and too complex to be broken up to run across multiple systems.

With Raijin, NCI’s expert staff provide the expertise and computing power to solve problems of enormous mathematical complexity, including processing enormous datasets to make them usable to researchers, as well as analysing those datasets and constructing models and simulations from them.

Results

NCI is using Raijin and its high-performance cloud and storage systems to process and analyse the volumes of raw data from SkyMapper to generate datasets and catalogues usable by astronomers.

Astronomy researchers will then be able to use Raijin to analyse this immense data set to answer questions about the evolution of solar systems and the formation of the first stars in the universe.

“The Southern Sky Survey is a digital map of the Southern Hemisphere skies producing torrents of data — which is why we need the phenomenal processing power of the NCI supercomputer. The discovery of nearby young stars will help in understanding the early evolution of solar systems.”
Professor Brian Schmidt AO, 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics and Leader of the Southern Sky Survey

Did you know?

  • The current NCI facilities are the seventh generation of supercomputing facilities operated from the ANU (since 1987), and the fourth generation of national facilities (2000 onwards).
  • Housed at ANU in a new, state-of-the-art Data Centre, NCI integrates Australia’s most powerful supercomputer (the Fujitsu Raijin), Australia’s highest-performance cloud computing facility, and Australia’s fastest file systems.
  • NCI supports the full spectrum of Australian computational and data-intensive science. Prioritised support is provided for national water management research, earth system science, and environmental science.
  • NCI brings together a number of organisations in an unincorporated collaborative venture. ANU, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Geoscience Australia, a consortium of research-intensive universities supported by the Australian Research Council, Intersect Australia, the Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation, and Deakin University all work together and share resources and knowledge.

The Australian Government is proud to provide funding for NCI’s important work through NCRIS.

You can find out more about NCI and about other NCRIS initiatives on their websites.