A Supercomputer Fit to Dominate the Cosmos

A Supercomputer Fit to Dominate the Cosmos

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It may not be self-aware (yet) but this computing monster is ready to take over the world. Well, at least a telescope in Chile. Say hello to the correlator for the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submilimeter Array, or ALMA. The correlator is the computer that runs at the backend of an array of radio telescopes called an interferometer. It, very basically, combines all the signals of the antennas so that it can function as one single telescope.

Though large (134 million processors) and fast (17 quadrillion operations per second), this computer has just one purpose: to suck in all of the data from ALMA’s 66 dishes and transform it into data that can then be sent to the astronomers to calibrate and analyze. The correlator gives the interferometer its power to see incredibly fine detail and small structures, such as protoplanetary disks and distant star-forming galaxies. The correlator came online in December as yet another step towards completing ALMA, a telescope that will give astronomers an unprecedented look at the sky in millimeter wavelengths. First science results have already been coming in from a partial array and correlator, giving scientists a tantalizing glimpse at what the full power of the array will hold.

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