The world's largest single-dish radio telescope launched yesterday, and it relies on a piece of Western Australian innovation to operate.
The telescope (called FAST, or the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope) uses a data system developed at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy (ICRAR) in Perth to manage the huge amounts of data it generates.
The software is called the Next Generation Archive System (NGAS), and will help astronomers using the telescope to search for rotating neutron stars and look for signs of extra-terrestrial life.
FAST is so large (surprisingly, 500 metres wide) it had to be built into a valley in the Guizhou province in south-west China.
The NGAS data system will help to collect, transport and store about three petabytes of information a year from the telescope.
“That’s a hundred thousand 32GB iPods filled every year,” said Professor Andreas Wicenec, who heads up ICRAR’s ICT program and helped design the data system.
“Getting that kind of capacity is not too hard anymore but the main challenge is transporting so much data and having the network bandwidth to move it around.”
FAST will be one of the most sensitive telescopes ever built, and the huge amounts of data produced will allow astronomers to map hydrogen gas in the Milky Way, hunt for rotating neutron stars known as pulsars and look for signals from extraterrestrial intelligence.