Stunning image of supernova remnants processed by a new Australian computer

Within 24 hours of reaching the first stage of Australia’s latest supercomputing system, researchers have processed a series of radio telescope observations, including a highly detailed image of a supernova remnant.

The very high data rates and huge data volumes of new generation radio telescopes like ASKAP (Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder) need high-powered software running on supercomputers.

That’s where the Pawsey Center for Supercomputing Research comes into play, with a newly launched extension of a supercomputer called Setonix – named after Western Australia’s favorite animal, the quokka (Setonix brachialis).

ASKAP, which consists of 36 dish antennas working together as a single telescope, is operated by the Australian National Science Agency CSIRO; Monitoring data it collects is transmitted over high-speed optical fibers to the Pawsey Center for processing and conversion into images ready for science.

In a major milestone on the road to full deployment, we have now demonstrated the integration of our ASKAPsoft processing software on Setonix, complete with stunning visuals.

traces of a dying star

The exciting result of this exercise was an impressive image of a cosmic object known as the supernova remnant, G261.9 + 5.5.

Estimated to be over a million years old, and located 10,000-15,000 light-years away from us, this object in our galaxy was first classified as a supernova remnant by CSIRO radio astronomer Eric R. Hill in 1967, using observations from CSIRO’s Parks Radio Telescope, Moryang.

Supernova remnants (SNRs) are the remnants of powerful explosions from dying stars. The material ejected from the explosion seeps outward into the surrounding interstellar medium at supersonic speeds, sweeping away gas and any material it encounters along the way, compressing and heating it in the process.

The remnant of the galactic supernova G261.9 + 5.5. (Waseem Raja/CSIRO; Pascal Ilah/Bowsi)

In addition, the shock wave will also compress the interstellar magnetic fields. The emissions we see in our G261.9 + 5.5 radio image come from high-energy electrons trapped in these compressed fields. They carry information about the history of the exploding star and aspects of the surrounding interstellar medium.

The structure of these remnants revealed in the ASKAP deep radio image opens up the possibility to study these remnants and the physical properties (such as magnetic fields and high-energy electron density) of the interstellar medium in unprecedented detail.

Putting a supercomputer in its stride

It might be nice to look at an image of SNR G261.9 + 05.5, but processing data from ASKAP’s astronomy surveys is also a great way to stress-test a supercomputer system, including hardware and processing software.

We included the supernova remnant dataset in our initial tests because its complex features will increase processing challenges.

Processing data even with a supercomputer is a complex exercise, with different processing modes giving rise to many potential problems. For example, an SNR image was created by combining data collected at hundreds of different frequencies (or colours, if you like), which allows us to obtain a composite view of the object.

But there is a treasure trove of information hidden in the individual frequencies as well. Extracting this information often requires making images at each frequency, which requires more computing resources and more digital space for storage.

While Setonix has enough resources for such intensive processing, the main challenge is to stabilize the supercomputer when it comes into contact with such massive amounts of data day in and day out.

Key to this quick first demonstration was the close collaboration between the Pawsey Center and members of the ASKAP Scientific Data Processing Team. Our collective work has enabled us all to better understand these challenges and find solutions quickly.

These results mean that we will be able to discover more ASKAP data, for example.

More is coming

But this is only the first of two phases of the Setonix installation, and the second phase is expected to be completed later this year.

This will allow data teams to process more massive amounts of data from many projects in a fraction of the time. In turn, it will not only enable researchers to better understand our universe, but will undoubtedly reveal new objects hidden in the radio sky. The variety of scientific questions that Setonix will allow us to explore in shorter time frames opens up many possibilities.

This increase in computational power benefits not only ASKAP, but all Australia-based researchers in all fields of science and engineering who have access to Setonix.

While the supercomputer is ramping up full operations, so is ASKAP, which is currently finishing a series of pilot surveys and will soon conduct larger and deeper sky surveys.

The supernova remnant is just one of the many features we’ve revealed now, and we can expect more stunning images and the discovery of many new celestial bodies soon.Conversation

Waseem Raja, Research Scientist, CSIRO and Pawsey Jahan Ellahi, Supercomputing Applications Specialist, Pawsey Supercomputing Research Center, CSIRO.

This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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