Idle home computers are being sought to help search through tons of astronomical data. The Skynet project involves using the spare processing capacity of computers as a giant, distributed supercomputer. PCs joining Skynet will scour the data for sources of radiation that reveal stars, galaxies along with other cosmic structures.

People who process the most data could win a visit to one of the observatories gathering data for the project.

Star searchers

The Skynet project is being run by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and it is seeking the support of thousands of Home computers to analyze data.

One of the sources of data will be the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) that will put to use thousands of dish antennas to make the most sensitive sky watching instrument ever constructed.

A decision about where to build the £1.5 bn SKA will be made in February 2012 and it will most likely be sited in either Australia or South Africa.

While it will have its own cadre of supercomputers to analyze data, the SKA is expected to produce so much information that a system to filter this down to the most interesting samples will certainly be needed. Skynet will certainly be part of that large-scale filtering system.

“As we design, develop and switch on the next generation of radio telescopes, the supercomputing resources processing this deluge of data will be in increasingly high demand,” said Professor Peter Quinn, director of ICRAR in a statement.

“SkyNet aims to complement the work already being done by creating a citizen science computing resource that radio astronomers can tap into and process data in ways and for purposes that otherwise might not be possible,” he added.

Prior to the SKA being built and switched on, the computers joining ICRAR’s Skynet will most likely crunch data from current radio astronomy research projects.

Those signing up to help will download a small program that will get a computer looking through data when that PC is not being used for anything else.

ICRAR said that the Skynet program was small and should’nt slow down any PC it is running on. Additionally, it said, data would be split into small packets to ensure it did not swamp a participant’s net connection.

Distributed computing projects that harness idle machines are a well-established approach of scouring through research data. One of the earliest looked through radio signals for evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence.

More recent projects simulate protein folding and help physicists search for the Higgs boson – the missing piece of what is known as the Standard Model, the most widely accepted theory of particle physics.

Filed under: Astronomy Software

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!