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NCI

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NCI makes surveying the Southern Skies possible

SkyMapper surveys the Milky Way. Photo by James Gilbert.

The SkyMapper telescope surveys the Milky Way. Photo by Dr James Gilbert, ANU.

Astronomy has been a collaborative activity for a long time: ever since Indigenous Australians first started looking up at the sky.

Until recently, we were collaborating by observing the sky together, sharing telescopes and images.

Now, astronomy has made it easier to collect and share large quantities of incoming data, but to handle these large datasets, we need special systems for data processing and analysis.

As telescope technology continues to develop and improve, the data that telescopes produce only grows bigger.

It’s important for our processing capacity to match. That’s why a large part of modern astronomy relies on supercomputers, like the one at NCI, to manage and analyse all of the data coming in.

In fact, NCI’s resources are required at every stage of the data management process, from data ingest to duplication, storage and analysis.

Once the data is well-organised and ready for scientific investigation, it can be shared across the scientific community from its home at NCI.

Dr Brad Tucker from The Australian National University says:

“It’s important to use a facility like NCI for our research.

“You want the limits of our exploration to be a limit of our creativity, not a limit of our research tools.

“If the tools are the ones holding you back, you fall behind and get stuck asking questions from ten years ago.”

One of the biggest astronomy projects in Australia is the SkyMapper Southern Sky Survey, which involves taking pictures of the entire Southern Sky at unprecedented resolutions.

Over the five-year course of the project, SkyMapper will generate more than 600,000 images of the sky, imaging over 1 billion objects and totalling approximately two petabytes of data.

Dr Tucker says the SkyMapper dataset is a major contribution to international astronomy.

“There is so much to study in the data; every time you look it keeps on giving you new information,” he says.

“SkyMapper is so powerful because everyone can access the data and take from it what they need.”

The SkyMapper project’s huge potential comes from using NCI’s supercomputer for storage and access.

In one facility, NCI allows researchers to securely share and view all the data they need, making the research process much more efficient.

All science is data-intensive these days, so having a reliable home for all that data is key to much of modern science.

In the case of astronomy, NCI will allow researchers like Dr Tucker to keep working together to increase our understanding of the universe.

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