Move Over Nasa IBM To Probe Origins Of Universe

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It's one of the biggest computing efforts of all time: IBM is collaborating with the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy to investigate the origins of the universe. The group is laying plans for an enormous £1.5 billion telescope project, called the Square Kilometer Array.

According to IBM, the SKA will span an area the width of the continental United States when it goes online in 2024. Combined, the 3,000 radio dishes will have a square kilometer of sensor space. Institute R+D head Albert-Jan Boonstra explains.
"With the SKA we will have a telescope which is about two orders of magnitude more sensitive than the current generation of radio telescopes."

The Verge reports the SKA is going to generate unprecedented amounts of information — exabytes per day. That's more than a million of the terabyte hard drives you might have on your desk. Or, to put it another way:

"This is more than double the daily traffic of the internet worldwide, which means that ... a powerful, low power computing system will be needed to process it all."

As Engadget points out, that low-power computing system is still a prototype. IBM has to figure out how to produce tech like nanophotonics and superfast memory chips in time to start crunching data.

"Its either that, or somehow daisy-chain 100 million PCs with enough power and cooling fans to keep it all working and hope for the best."

In any case, Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOM says this project is a tremendous feat of engineering.

"Our investigations into dark matter will require a [computer] effort that could rival the engineering effort that it took to get men on the moon. Which makes big data our Sputnik and our Apollo 11."

In the meantime, scientists are looking for someplace to put the dishes. Australia and South Africa are candidates, thanks to their low levels of radio pollution.

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