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Radioastronomy Needs Number Crunchers

Most radioastronomers use the office workstations to process much of the data from their observing runs. Typically, however, this take up to 8 hours or more. In contrast, processing the same amount of data on the latest high performance computers might take an hour, even minutes, depending on the size of the calculation.

Realtime Steering

The goal is to make supercomputers available to all astronomers, and to provide immediate access during observing runs. Researchers would use these powerful number crunchers to generate preliminary images during the run rather than long afterwards. As a result, astronomers would be able to "see" exactly what the BIMA array is pointing at a given time and "steer" the radiotelescope accordingly, as if looking through an optical telescope with its immediate visual feedback. Upon viewing an image, researchers will be able to spot unforseen errors, glimpse unexpected events such as solar flares and redirect the telescope "on-the-fly", or acquire a quick overview of an object of interest, then return to it later for more detailed observations.

Eventually, all radiotelescopes will be "steerable" in realtime, allowing scientists to focus on what they are observing rather than on data processing. But supercomputers alone will not bring about realtime instrument steering and imaging. Superior software programs and high speed data communications links are also required.

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NCSA. Last modified 11/13/95