SKA will be the worlds largest radio telescope when built.

Cape Town - More than 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 calculations – in a second.

At one million trillion, it will have to be the work rate of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope’s supercomputer to process the gigantic data loads the telescope will produce, said Simon Ratcliffe of SKA South Africa.

“The final SKA will have one of the largest and most sophisticated supercomputers on the planet when it is complete,” he said, placing South Africa at the forefront of high-performance computing development.

The telescope will help answer questions such as how the first stars and galaxies formed after the big bang, how gravity works and whether there is life on other planets.

In May last year it was decided that construction of the world’s largest radio telescope would be split between South Africa and Australia. Nine other countries are contributing to the project. In the first phase the telescope will be built between 2016 and 2023 near Carnarvon. Fully functioning in a decade’s time, it is expected to be 50 times more sensitive than any radio telescope.

“The SKA will be a truly massive data generator,” said Ratcliffe, an astronomer and engineer. “The scientific data produced by the telescope will need to be distributed to interested scientists and processing centres around the globe. International capacity needed from South Africa will be of the order of 100 gigabits per second or more.”

Huge data processing centres would have to be built in the Northern Cape. “The largest will be in the Karoo. The raw data rates are so large that the cost of moving this data to Cape Town or beyond is prohibitive.”

The supercomputer would process the data to reduce its volume, before sending it to other facilities.

On Tuesday, Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom told the annual general meeting of business think tank Accelerate Cape Town that the SKA’s data processing power would boost broadband internet speeds and reach in South Africa.

“The data requirements of the world’s largest telescope will be a game changer.” - Cape Times