IBM and ASTRON to help scientists explore the Big Bang

2 Apr 2012

Image courtesy of ASTRON. See

ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, and IBM are preparing to engage in a €2.9m five-year collaboration to research the exascale computer systems that are needed for what will become the world’s largest radio telescope.

Specifically, ASTRON and IBM will be investigating advanced accelerators and 3D stacked chips for more energy-efficient computing.

The research is targeted for the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an international consortium to build the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. Scientists are predicting that the processing power needed to operate the telescope will be equal to several millions of today’s fastest computers.

ASTRON is one of the scientific partners in the international consortium that is developing the SKA. When it’s ready in 2024, it’s anticipated that the telescope will be used to explore evolving galaxies, dark matter and even the origins of the universe, potentially going back more than 13bn years.

The research collaboration will take place in Drenthe, the Netherlands at the newly established ASTRON & IBM Center for Exascale Technology.

The project will be called DOME. IBM said today in a statement that DOME would investigate emerging technologies for large-scale and efficient exascale computing, data transport and storage processes.

“If you take the current global daily internet traffic and multiply it by two, you are in the range of the data set that the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope will be collecting every day. This is big data analytics to the extreme. With DOME we will embark on one of the most data-intensive science projects ever planned, which will eventually have much broader applications beyond radio astronomy research,” said Ton Engbersen of IBM Research – Zurich.

Marco de Vos, managing director of ASTRON, said that large research infrastructures like the SKA would require extremely powerful computer systems to process all the data.

“The only acceptable way to build and operate these systems is to dramatically reduce their power consumption. DOME gives us unique opportunities to try out new approaches in green supercomputing. This will be beneficial for society at large as well,” he said.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic