National Computational Infrastructure

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All-Sky Virtual Observatory

Scientists can use the ASVO like a virtual telescope to observe the night sky.

SkyMapper surveys the Milky Way. Photo by James Gilbert.

SkyMapper surveys the Milky Way. Photo by James Gilbert.

New telescopes coming online over the next decade will produce data in volumes never previously experienced in Australian astronomy.

NCI is working with the astronomy research community to develop a high-performance database system to make this vast scientific data archive available as a long term national data asset.

This database is a component of the All Sky Virtual Observatory (ASVO) being delivered with NCI’s partners Astronomy Australia Limited, Intersect and Swinburne University, with funding from the Australian Government’s NeCTAR Virtual Laboratory program.

NCI is host to the SkyMapper Node of ASVO, providing an integrated and comprehensive environment for the hosting, analysis, and exploration of the SkyMapper Southern-Sky Survey data. SkyMapper is a fully automated wide-field survey telescope. Its main function is to produce the most detailed map of the southern sky ever created, led by ANU Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt.

SkyMapper is expected to produce in excess of 1 PB of data over the project’s 5-year duration. SkyMapper will observe every part of the southern sky 36 times, generating more than 600,000 images. On a clear night, SkyMapper is expected to produce up to 1 TB of raw image data, generating a further 2 TB of calibrated data and 100 GB of catalogue data.

This enormous volume of data requires both powerful processing capabilities and the development of new high-performance database technologies for cataloguing and analysis. It is also critical that these services are standardised as dictated by the International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA) to allow international access and sharing of tools and data.

The data collected from SkyMapper, which is located at the Siding Spring Observatory in Coonabarabran NSW, is being transferred to NCI over a dedicated network to be processed overnight on Raijin and the NCI Cloud. The processed data needs to be made available to SkyMapper in time for the next night’s observing to be undertaken.

A comprehensive scoping of the volumes, loads and characteristics of the data expected to be generated by SkyMapper has been undertaken and the pilot version of the SkyMapper Node was deployed in June 2013.

The SkyMapper Node has been designed to be flexible and extensible, to allow incorporation of a broader range of datasets, including next-generation radio astronomy datasets from the Square Kilometre Array precursor instruments located in outback Western Australia. NCI has also developed and deployed pilot services for a number of other datasets, including:

  • WiggleZ (optical spectroscopy and redshifts for almost 250,000 galaxies)
  • MACHO (Massive Compact Halo Objects for dark matter research)
  • HIPASS (HI Parkes All Sky Survey for neutral atomic hydrogen for the entire southern sky)
  • ASKAP (test data from the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope).

A range of services, including the Cone Search, the Simple Image Access Protocol, and the Table Access Protocol, have also been developed, allowing researchers to access, explore, download and filter the image catalogue and data in both simple and sophisticated ways. Researchers around the globe will also be able to access the datasets hosted at NCI through existing analysis tools developed under the IVOA initiative, including Aladin and TOPCAT.

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