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CHIME Telescope Accelerates Exploration of the Dark & Mysterious Universe

Spotlight On:

CHIME Project

Researchers from the University of British Columbia, McGill University, University of Toronto, the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory and collaborators across North America, are hoping a radio telescope named the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) will help them answer some critical cosmology questions: What is dark energy? Why is the expansion of the universe accelerating?

According to Professor Kris Sigurdson from the University of British Columbia, “The CHIME team's research is focused on the composition, history, and fate of the Universe.”

But answering such big questions requires big data and big systems to analyze and store it all. 

Graduate student Nolan Denman with Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan

Photo: Toronto Graduate student Nolan Denman with Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan inside one of the five truckloads of custom electronics on site (Photo Credit: The National Research Council, Canada).

“CHIME analysis requires storage and computing resources at a scale only Compute Canada can provide,” says Sigurdson, who has been using WestGrid and Compute Canada resources for more than five years. The project has had storage on WestGrid's Silo and Bugaboo systems and is now using the new National Data Cyberinfrastructure on the Cedar system located at Simon Fraser University.

The new $16 million 'digital' radio telescope, located at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, near Penticton, British Columbia is now Canada’s largest radio telescope. Due to its design, large collecting area, and a wide observational bandwidth, CHIME can see a large portion of the sky and can collect a few thousand times more data than any other radio telescope, producing terabytes of raw data every second. 

Using Compute Canada's SciNet systems for testing and analysis, researchers were able to devise a new technique that made it computationally feasible to distinguish the interesting cosmic structure signal from the bright galactic foreground signal. Sigurdson noted that the algorithm required resources that only Compute Canada could provide.

“Compute Canada infrastructure is vital to the analysis of CHIME data. The data analysis employs large matrix operations that require high performance computers and hundreds of terabytes of data storage,” says UBC researcher Dr. Richard Shaw. 

WestGrid’s Senior Management team got a chance to tour CHIME in September 2016, and again during its “First Light” on September 7, 2017 at a ceremony involving Federal Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan. Dr. Richard Shaw and Professor Mark Halpern led the first tour, during a break from installing miles of cables required to collect the analog radio signals.

WestGrid visits the CHIME telescope Fall 2016.

Photo: Dr. Richard Shaw tours Lindsay Sill and Erin Trifunov of WestGrid around the new CHIME telescope. 

“It was amazing to see in person this huge project which is happening so close to us, and to get a real sense of all the work that goes on behind the scenes,” said Lindsay Sill, WestGrid’s Executive Director. 

With the radio telescope officially up and running, researchers can begin answering questions about some of the Universe’s greatest mysteries, and likely find an equal number of new questions to search for.