How Big Data Punks Are Changing The World With SKA Radio Telescope

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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The world’s largest radio telescope will generate an unprecedented amount of data

There are big data projects, then there are really bloody huge data projects. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is definitely the latter.

It’s an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually more than a square kilometre of collecting area, and has been described as the largest big data project in the universe.

1TB per second

So exactly how much data will it be dealing with? Once up and running, the telescope will ingest one terabyte of data per second. When we talk about such large amounts of data it can sometimes be tricky to get our heads around it.

Let’s break it down a little. A terabyte drive can hold roughly 330,000 3MB photos or 250,000 MP3 files. If we say the average song lasts about four minutes, that’s a million minutes of music, or 16,666 hours or 694 days.

Imagine The Final Countdown (radio edit) by Europe on repeat – that’s almost two whole years of uninterrupted classic rock listening pleasure. It’s a lot of data. And that’s every second.

The SKA will eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence.

ska1_sa_closeup_highres-fullIts unique configuration will give the SKA unrivalled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope.

It will also have the ability to image huge areas of sky in parallel – a feat which no survey telescope has ever achieved on this scale with this level of sensitivity.

With a range of other large telescopes in the optical and infra-red being built and launched in to space over the coming decades, the SKA is expected to perfectly augment, complement and lead the way in scientific discovery.

The plan is not to find little green men, although that would be pretty cool. SKA could, however, take us a step closer to answering some of life’s biggest questions, such as how did the universe begin and what the heck is actually going on out there?

More specifically, there are two key objectives, according to Bojan Nikolic, principal research associate, SKA telescope project, speaking at the Big Data LDN event today.

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What will SKA be used for? Find out on page 2…