You are here

Harnessing Big Data in Radio Astronomy


GALFACTS is a project by the GALFA Continuum Consortium to use the new Arecibo L-band Feed Array (ALFA) to carry out a spectro-polarimetric survey of the sky visible from the Arecibo Observatory. Pictured above is a preliminary image set from small portion of the GALFACTS project data.

Spotlight On:

Russ Taylor
University of Calgary
Physics and Astronomy

An international collaboration of scientists has assembled around the pursuit to explore the origin and role of cosmic magnetic fields, and WestGrid resources are helping a group of Calgary researchers contribute to the investigation. Russ Taylor, a Professor with the University of Calgary's Physics Department, is the project leader of more than 40 researchers from Canada, Australia, India, the US and the UK. Together they are working to create large-scale, hyper-spectral image of the polarized radio emission from our Milky Way Galaxy and the Universe beyond.

With 2,000 hours of observations from the largest telescope in the world, Taylor's research group has secured a vast data set that must be processed to images and then visualized. The scale of the data and processing are beyond the capability of conventional computing resources within university research groups.

Taylor's use of WestGrid and Compute Canada storage and computing resources will enable the processing of the data on the time scale of a year, and the ability to visualize the very large image set that will be created. Members of the Canadian team on this project are leaders in data-intensive radio astronomy, leading the cyberSKA initiative. Data outcomes from Taylor's work using WestGrid resources will be integrated with the cyberSKA e-science portal to allow visualization by the global collaboration.

This year Taylor presented key talks on the project and the rise of Big Data in radio astronomy at several international venues, including the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, the SPIE 2012 Conference on Astronomical Instrumentation, and at the Centre for High Performance Computing in Cape Town.

This project addresses key science on the pathway to the Square Kilometre Array and prototypes the Big Data challenge that will be confronted by global teams working on data intensive research with the SKA and its precursors.