PHOTO: This Supernova Remnant Image Processed by a New Supercomputer Is Mind-Blowing

by Sean Griffin

Researchers in Australia used a new supercomputing system to process a series of telescope observations, rendering a highly detailed image of a supernova remnant.

ASKAP (Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder) needs high-powered software to power these supercomputers to process the overwhelming amounts of data coming from new-age radio telescopes.

The new computer is called Setonix. The computer earned its name from Western Australia’s favorite animal, the quokka (Setonix brachyurus).

ASKAP consists of 36 dish antennas that work together as one telescope. Australia’s national science agency CSIRO operates the telescope. The observational data it gathers are then converted into science-ready images.

A fantastic image of a cosmic object known as a supernova remnant, G261.9+5.5, was produced through the software.

Scientists estimate the supernova remnant to be more than a million years old. The supernova remnant is located 10,000-15,000 lightyears away from us. CSIRO radio astronomer Eric R. Hill first classified the object as a supernova in 1967. He used observations from CSIRO’s Parkes Radio Telescope, Murriyang to make the classification.

Supernova remnants (SNRs) include the remains of powerful explosions from dying stars.

The ejected material from the explosion flows outward into the surrounding atmosphere at supersonic speeds. The material sweeps up gas and any material it encounters along the way. These materials are then compressed and heated up.

The emissions seen in the radio image of G261.9+5.5 come from highly energetic electrons trapped in these compressed fields. They hold information about the history of the exploded star and aspects of the surrounding interstellar medium.

Supernova Remnant Image Stuns Viewers

The image of SNR G261.9+05.5 might be a beautiful sight to see, but the processing of data from ASKAP’s astronomy surveys is also a great way to stress-test the supercomputer system, including the hardware and the processing software.

The image produced by the telescope is visible below.

Even with a supercomputer, data processing remains a tricky issue. For example, the image of the SNR was created by combining data gathered at hundreds of different frequencies allowing them to get a composite view of the object.

However, there’s lots of information left hidden in these frequencies. Scientists aim to extract that data; however, it requires supercomputers with vast resources to store information.

Setonix does have the resources necessary for this kind of laborious processing. However, ensuring the consistency of the supercomputer remains the toughest challenge.

The Pawsey Centre and the ASKAP team collaborated to test run the computer for the first time. The teamwork helped both sides understand the biggest challenges and work together to create solutions.

However, researchers continue raving about the new stages of installation. The team remarks to The Conversation on the wonders available from the data in these experiments.

“This will allow data teams to process more of the vast amounts of data coming in 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 uncover 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 so many possibilities.”