SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

By John Russell

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning as images of stars and galaxies and tiny telescopes and giant telescopes streamed across the high definition screen extended the length of Colorado Convention Center ballroom’s stage. One was reminded of astronomer Carl Sagan narrating the Cosmos TV series.

SKA, you may know, is the Square Kilometre Array project being run by an international consortium and intended to build the largest radio telescope in the world; it will be 50 times more powerful than any other radio telescope today. The largest today is  ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) located in Chile and has 66 dishes.

SKA will be sited in two locations, South Africa, and Australia. The two keynoters Philip Diamond, Director General of SKA, and Rosie Bolton, SKA Regional Centre Project Scientist and Project Scientist for the international engineering consortium designing the high performance computers, took turns outlining radio astronomy history and SKA’s ambition to build on that. Theirs was a swiftly-moving talk, both entertaining and informative. The visuals flashing adding to the impact.

Their core message: This massive new telescope will open a new window on astrophysical phenomena and create a mountain of data for scientists to work on for years. SKA, say Diamond and Bolton, will help clarify the early evolution of the universe, be able to detect gravitational waves by their effect on pulsars, shed light on dark matter, produce insight around cosmic magnetism, create detailed, accurate 3D maps of galaxies, and much more. It could even play a SETI like role in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

“When fully deployed, SKA will be able to detect TV signals, if they exist, from the nearest tens maybe 100 stars and will be able to detect the airport radars across the entire galaxy,” said Diamond, in response to a question. SKA is creating a new government organization to run the observatory, “something like CERN or the European Space Agency, and [we] are now very close to having this process finalized,” said Diamond.

Indeed this is exciting stuff. It is also incredibly computationally intensive. Think about an army of dish arrays and antennas, capturing signals 24×7, moving them over high speed networks to one of two digital “signal processing facilities”, one for each location, and then on to two “science data processors” centers (think big computers). And let’s not forget data must be made available to scientists around the world.

Consider just a few data points, shown below, that were flashed across stage during the keynote presentation. The context will become clearer later.

It’s a grand vision and there’s still a long way to go. SKA, like all Big Science projects, won’t happen overnight. SKA was first conceived in 90s at the International Union of Radio Science (URSI) which established the Large Telescope Working Group to begin a worldwide effort to develop the scientific goals and technical specifications for a next generation radio observatory. The idea arose to create a “hydrogen array” able to detect H radiofrequency emission (~1420 MHz). A square kilometer was required to have a large enough collection area to see back into the early universe. In 2011 those efforts consolidated in a not-for-profit company that now has ten member countries (link to brief history of SKA). The U.S. which did participate in early SKA efforts chose not to join the consortium at the time.

Although first conceived as a hydrogen array, Diamond emphasized, “With a telescope of that size you can study many things. Even in its early stages SKA will be able to map galaxies early in the universe’s evolution. When fully deployed it will conduct fullest galaxy mapping in 3D encompassing up to one million individual galaxies and cover 12.5 billon years of cosmic history.”

A two-phase deployment is planned. “We’re heading full steam towards critical design reviews next year,” said Diamond. Full construction starts in two years with construction of the first phase expected to begin in 2019. So far €200 million have been committed for design along with “a large fraction” of the €640 million required for first phase construction. Clearly there are technology and funding hurdles ahead. Diamond quipped if the U.S. were to join SKA and pony up, say $2 billion, they would ‘fix’ the spelling of kilometre to kilometer.

There will actually be two telescopes, one in South Africa about 600 km north of Cape Town and another one roughly 800 km north of Perth in western Australia. They are being located in remote regions to reduce radiofrequency interference from human activities.

“In South Africa we are going to be building close to 200 dishes, 15 meters in diameter, and the dishes will be spread over 150 km. They [will operate] over a frequency range of 350 MHz to 14 GHz. In Australia we will build 512 clusters, each of 256 antennas. That means a total of over 130,000 2-meter tall antennas, spread over 65 km. These low frequency antennas will be tapered with periodic dipoles and will cover the frequency range 50 to 350MHz. It is this array that will be the time machine that observes hydrogen all the way back to the dawn of the universe.”

Pretty cool stuff. Converting those signals into data is a mammoth task. SKA plans two different types of processing center for each location. “The radio waves induce voltages in the receivers that capture them and modern technology allows us to digitize them to higher precision than ever before. From there optical fibers transmit the digital data from the telescopes to what we call central processing facilities or (CPFs). There’s one for each telescope,” said Bolton.

Using a variety of technologies including “some exciting FPGA, CPU-GPU, and hybrids,” CPFs are where the signals are combined. Great care must be taken to first synchronize the data so it enters the processing chain exactly when it should to account for the fact the radio waves from space reached one antenna before reaching another. “We need to correct that phase offset down to the nanosecond,” said Bolton.

Once that’s done a Fourier transform is applied to the data. “It decomposes essentially a function of time into the frequencies that make it up; it moves us into the frequency domain. We do this with such precision that SKA will be able to process 65,000 different radio frequencies simultaneously,” said Diamond

Once the signals have been separated into frequencies they are processed one of two ways. “We can either stack the signals together of various antenna in what we call time domain data. Each stacking operation corresponds to a different direction in the sky. We’ll be able to look at 2000 such directions simultaneously. This time domain processing analysis detects repeating objects such as pulsars or one-off events like gamma ray explosions. If we do find an event, we are planning to store the raw voltage signals at the antennas for a few minutes so we can go back in time and investigate them to see what happened,” said Bolton.

This time domain data can be used by researchers to measure pulsar – which are a bit like cosmic lighthouses – signal arrival times accurately and detect the drift if there is one as a gravitational wave passes through.

“We can also use these radio signals to make images of the sky. To do that we take the signals from each pair of antennas, each baseline, and effectively multiply them together generating data objects we call visibilities. Imagine it will be done for 200 dishes and 512 groups of antennas, that’s 150,000 baselines ad 65,000 different frequencies. That makes up to 10 billion different data streams. Doing this is a data intensive process that requires around 50 petaflops of dedicated digital signal processing.

“Signals are processed inside these central processing facilities in a way that depends on the science that we want to do with them,” said Bolton. Once processed the data are then sent via more fiber optic cables to the Science Data Processors or SDPs. Two of these “great supercomputers” are planned, one in Cape Town for the dish array and one in Perth for low frequency antennas.

“We have two flavors of data within the Science Data Processors. In the time domain we’ll do panning for astrophysical gold, searching over 1.5M candidate objects every ten minutes sniffing out the real astrophysical phenomena such as pulsar signals or flashes of radio light,” said Diamond. The expectation is for a 10,000 to 1 negative-to-positive events. Machine learning will play a key role in finding the “gold.”

Making sense of the 10 billion incoming visibility data streams poses the greatest computational burden, emphasized Bolton: “This is really hard because inside the visibilities (data objects) the sky and antenna responses are all jumbled. We need to do another massive Fourier transform to get from the visibility space that depends on the antenna separations to sky planes. Ultimately we need to develop self-consistent models not only of the sky that generated the signals but also of how each antenna was behaving and even how the atmosphere was changing during the data gathering.

“We can’t do that in one fell swoop. Instead we’ll have several iterations trying to find the calibration parameters and source positions of brightnesses. With each iteration, bit by bit, fainter and fainter signal emerge from the noise. Every time we do another iteration we apply different calibration techniques and we improve a lot of them but we can’t be sure when this process is going to converge [on the best solution] so it is going to be difficult,” said Bolton.

A typical SKA map, she said, will probably contain hundreds of thousands of radio array sources. The incoming images are about 10 petabytes in size. Output 3D images are 5,000 pixels on each axis and 1 petabyte in size.

Distributing this data to scientists for analysis is another huge challenge. The plan is to distribute data via fiber to SKA regional centers. “This is another real game changer that the SKA, CERN, and a few other facilities are bringing about. Scientists will use the computing power of the SKA regional centers to analyze these data products,” said Diamond.

The keynote was a wowing, multimedia presentation, and warmly received by attendees. It bears repeating that many issues remain and schedules have slipped slightly, but it is still a stellar example of Big Science, requiring massively coordinated international efforts, and underpinned with enormous computing resources. Such collaboration is well aligned with SC17’s theme – HPC Connects.

Link to video recording of the presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2522&v=VceKNiRxDBc

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Russian Supercomputer Employed to Develop COVID-19 Treatment

March 31, 2020

From Summit to [email protected], global supercomputing is continuing to mobilize against the coronavirus pandemic by crunching massive problems like epidemiology, therapeutic development and vaccine development. The latest a Read more…

By Staff report

What’s New in HPC Research: Supersonic Jets, Skin Modeling, Astrophysics & More

March 31, 2020

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Pandemic ‘Wipes Out’ 2020 HPC Market Growth, Flat to 12% Drop Expected

March 31, 2020

As the world battles the still accelerating novel coronavirus, the HPC community has mounted a forceful response to the pandemic on many fronts. But these efforts won't inoculate the HPC industry from the economic effects of COVID-19. Market watcher Intersect360 Research has revised its 2020 forecast for HPC products and services, projecting... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

LLNL Leverages Supercomputing to Identify COVID-19 Antibody Candidates

March 30, 2020

As COVID-19 sweeps the globe to devastating effect, supercomputers around the world are spinning up to fight back by working on diagnosis, epidemiology, treatment and vaccine development. Now, Lawrence Livermore National Read more…

By Staff report

Weather at Exascale: Load Balancing for Heterogeneous Systems

March 30, 2020

The first months of 2020 were dominated by weather and climate supercomputing news, with major announcements coming from the UK, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and the U.S. National Oceanic and At Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Amazon FSx for Lustre Update: Persistent Storage for Long-Term, High-Performance Workloads

Last year I wrote about Amazon FSx for Lustre and told you how our customers can use it to create pebibyte-scale, highly parallel POSIX-compliant file systems that serve thousands of simultaneous clients driving millions of IOPS (Input/Output Operations per Second) with sub-millisecond latency. Read more…

Q&A Part Two: ORNL’s Pooser on Progress in Quantum Communication

March 30, 2020

Quantum computing seems to get more than its fair share of attention compared to quantum communication. That’s despite the fact that quantum networking may be nearer to becoming a practical reality. In this second inst Read more…

By John Russell

Pandemic ‘Wipes Out’ 2020 HPC Market Growth, Flat to 12% Drop Expected

March 31, 2020

As the world battles the still accelerating novel coronavirus, the HPC community has mounted a forceful response to the pandemic on many fronts. But these efforts won't inoculate the HPC industry from the economic effects of COVID-19. Market watcher Intersect360 Research has revised its 2020 forecast for HPC products and services, projecting... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Weather at Exascale: Load Balancing for Heterogeneous Systems

March 30, 2020

The first months of 2020 were dominated by weather and climate supercomputing news, with major announcements coming from the UK, the European Centre for Medium- Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Q&A Part Two: ORNL’s Pooser on Progress in Quantum Communication

March 30, 2020

Quantum computing seems to get more than its fair share of attention compared to quantum communication. That’s despite the fact that quantum networking may be Read more…

By John Russell

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Conversation: ANL’s Rick Stevens on DoE’s AI for Science Project

March 23, 2020

With release of the Department of Energy’s AI for Science report in late February, the effort to build a national AI program, modeled loosely on the U.S. Exascale Initiative, enters a new phase. Project leaders have already had early discussions with Congress... Read more…

By John Russell

Servers Headed to Junkyard Find 2nd Life Fighting Cancer in Clusters

March 20, 2020

Ottawa-based charitable organization Cancer Computer is on a mission to stamp out cancer and other life-threatening diseases, including coronavirus, by putting Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Kubernetes and HPC Applications in Hybrid Cloud Environments – Part II

March 19, 2020

With the rise of cloud services, CIOs are recognizing that applications, middleware, and infrastructure running in various compute environments need a common management and operating model. Maintaining different application and middleware stacks on-premises and in cloud environments, by possibly using different specialized infrastructure and application... Read more…

By Daniel Gruber,Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Julia Programming’s Dramatic Rise in HPC and Elsewhere

January 14, 2020

Back in 2012 a paper by four computer scientists including Alan Edelman of MIT introduced Julia, A Fast Dynamic Language for Technical Computing. At the time, t Read more…

By John Russell

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fujitsu A64FX Supercomputer to Be Deployed at Nagoya University This Summer

February 3, 2020

Japanese tech giant Fujitsu announced today that it will supply Nagoya University Information Technology Center with the first commercial supercomputer powered Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tech Conferences Are Being Canceled Due to Coronavirus

March 3, 2020

Several conferences scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, including Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and the Strata Data + AI conference, have Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

AMD
AMD
ASROCK RACK
ASROCK RACK
AWS
AWS
CEJN
CJEN
CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
IBM
IBM
MELLANOX
MELLANOX
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
SIX NINES IT
SIX NINES IT
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL
WEKAIO
WEKAIO

Cray to Provide NOAA with Two AMD-Powered Supercomputers

February 24, 2020

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week announced plans for a major refresh of its operational weather forecasting supercomputers, part of a 10-year, $505.2 million program, which will secure two HPE-Cray systems for NOAA’s National Weather Service to be fielded later this year and put into production in early 2022. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Exascale Watch: El Capitan Will Use AMD CPUs & GPUs to Reach 2 Exaflops

March 4, 2020

HPE and its collaborators reported today that El Capitan, the forthcoming exascale supercomputer to be sited at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and serve Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Unveils Latest Achievements in AI Hardware

December 13, 2019

“The increased capabilities of contemporary AI models provide unprecedented recognition accuracy, but often at the expense of larger computational and energet Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

IBM Debuts IC922 Power Server for AI Inferencing and Data Management

January 28, 2020

IBM today launched a Power9-based inference server – the IC922 – that features up to six Nvidia T4 GPUs, PCIe Gen 4 and OpenCAPI connectivity, and can accom Read more…

By John Russell

University of Stuttgart Inaugurates ‘Hawk’ Supercomputer

February 20, 2020

This week, the new “Hawk” supercomputer was inaugurated in a ceremony at the High-Performance Computing Center of the University of Stuttgart (HLRS). Offici Read more…

By Staff report

Summit Joins the Fight Against the Coronavirus

March 6, 2020

With the coronavirus sweeping the globe, tech conferences and supply chains are being hit hard – but now, tech is hitting back. Oak Ridge National Laboratory Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This