Australian supercomputer recreates stunning supernova explosion


The supernova remnant. Credit: CSIRO ASKAP Science Data Processing/Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre
The supernova remnant. Credit: CSIRO ASKAP Science Data Processing/Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre

Only 24 hours after it was first activated, Australia's new supercomputer, Stonics, processed a huge amount of data from the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder, or ASKAP, radio telescope and found a stunningly beautiful supernova remnant.


Supernova remnants are the remnants of massive star explosions. The remnant of the supernova G261.9+5.5, which is about 15,000 light-years away from us, probably exploded about a million years ago - and in the picture, we see the material that was blown away by the powerful explosion and continues to spread through space at a speed of thousands of kilometers per hour. The surge of the expanding material sweeps away gas and any other material present, compresses, and heats it. The surge also compresses the magnetic fields of stars in its path allowing us to pick up the supernova remnant with radio telescopes. In fact, in the image, we see the trapped electrons from these magnetic lines.


The image before us was taken by the ASKAP radio telescope array, which consists of 36 parabolic antennas ("dish" antennas), each with a diameter of 12 meters, which work together in interferometry: that is, all the telescopes synchronize with each other by focusing on one point and thus, function like one telescope whose diameter is the distance between them. In the case of ASKAP, the radio signal collection area from space is 4,000 square meters.

ASKAP's parabolic antennas. Credit: CSIRO
ASKAP's parabolic antennas. Credit: CSIRO

And ASKAP is just the beginning. The array is part of a future and international array called the Square Kilometer Array, or SKA, which will include similar arrays in South Africa - and will reach a collection area of ​​radio signals from space like an antenna dish with a diameter of a square kilometer. When completed in 2027, SKA will be the most powerful radio telescope ever built. But huge telescopes produce huge amounts of information. For the sake of illustration, the volume of information produced by the SKA array each year would be enough to fill a million 500 GB laptops.


For this purpose, a supercomputer called Stonix was recently launched, named after Setonix brachyurus - the scientific name of the lovable Australian marsupial, the quokka. Stonics is the first step in the establishment of the array of Australian supercomputers that will try to deal with replica data from SKA. Within only 24 hours of its activation, the computer was able to process a series of radio observations in ASKAP, combine information from hundreds of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation and produce a detailed and wonderful image of the supernova remnant.

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