Calgary-based research team helps astronomers around the world visualize big data

A software tool developed at the University of Calgary is helping over 500 astronomy experts around the world process massive volumes of space data. The insights they reveal will determine how the first stars were formed, if Einstein'€™s theory of relativity is correct, and if we are alone in the Universe.

cyberska sessions

Number of active visits to the CyberSKA platform since its launch in 2010.

CyberSKA is a research platform that allows astronomers to visualize and collaborate on massive datasets generated by radio telescope projects, including the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is scheduled to start running in 2020. The SKA is made up of a series of interconnected radio telescopes that are currently being built in Australia and South Africa. As the world's largest science project (involving participants from 20 countries), the SKA presents a massive data challenge, as the finished telescopes are expected to generate exabytes of data every day (equivalent to one billion gigabytes of data).

CyberSKA was developed to address this challenge. It uses a novel data management system to store and make available the large and complex packages of information that are collected from telescopes. Researchers are currently using the platform to develop applications and analyses based on existing space data to discover new pulsars. Others are using its visual analytics tool to explore large, multidimensional images of the Milky Way galaxy and the Universe beyond.

The CyberSKA platform was funded by CANARIE through its Research Software Program, and utilizes the National Research and Education Network (through CANARIE and its Alberta partner, Cybera) to transfer the large volumes of datasets being analyzed by researchers.

"€œThis growth of users reflects the increased adoption of the CyberSKA platform as a collaboration portal for major projects [working with] SKA telescopes around the world,€" says Dr. Russ Taylor, SKA Research Chair.

"As the diversity of projects within the portal expands, we expect to gain experience and feedback on its use for a broad range of research challenges in astronomy."€

Taylor added that the continued support and development of CyberSKA has created useful enhancements, including a scalable distributed global data model. This allows scientists around the world to access their data, wherever they are, and collaborate with others using common analytical tools.

"€œWe are also working on a next-generation visual analytics tool for distributed large data sets. This tool will be a generic solution for astronomy, which means it will be adaptable to applications beyond the CyberSKA gateway," adds Dr. Taylor. This means it could benefit a variety of scientists working with big data, including those working with energy or geophysical data.

To learn more about the CyberSKA platform, see CANARIE'€™s background fact sheet.


About the Square Kilometre Array

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope. It will feature an array of thousands of receptors stretching out 3,000 km from a central core. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our universe, including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how galaxies have evolved since then, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. Sixty-seven organizations in 20 countries, together with industry partners, are participating in the scientific and technical design of the SKA telescope, which will be located in Australia and South Africa. For more information, visit the SKA website.

About Cybera

Cybera is a not-for-profit technology-neutral organization responsible for driving Alberta's economic growth through the use of digital technology. Its core role is to oversee the development and operations of Alberta's cyberinfrastructure —€” the advanced system of networks and computers that keeps government, educational institutions, not-for-profits, business incubators and entrepreneurs at the forefront of technological change.

Dr. Russ Taylor is the SKA Research Chair, and Professor at the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape. He is also the Adjunct Professor for the Department of Astronomy at the University of Calgary.