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Coming soon: A telescope that crunches more data than the entire internet?
An international team of astronomers imagines an enormous system of space telescopes stretching for thousands of kilometers above the Earth
An artist's illustration of SKA dishes, part of a proposed supercomputer radio telescope that would be tasked with studying the farthest corners of space.
An artist's illustration of SKA dishes, part of a proposed supercomputer radio telescope that would be tasked with studying the farthest corners of space.
SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions
W

hen it comes to telescopes, bigger is always better. That's why IBM is partnering with Netherlands-based astronomy institute ASTRON to develop the largest and most powerful telescope system the world has ever seen. Here, a look at the massive undertaking:

How big would this telescope be?
The supercomputing radio telescope, called the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), wouldn't be a traditional telescope. Instead, it would be a system of thousands of dishes spread across 3,000 kilometers, and linked together to get an enormously rich view of our universe. IBM and ASTRON, with the aid of an international team of astronomers from 20 countries, hope to have the SKA project up and running by 2024. 

What would the telescope do? 
It would be charged with peering into the farthest reaches of space, says Matt Peckham at TIME. Astronomers would be able to see some 13 billion light years away, allowing them to study dark matter, evolving galaxies, and hopefully, the very origins of the universe. 

Just how powerful is SKA?
SKA will be thousands of times more powerful than today's most powerful computers. The system would take in an unprecedented 300 to 1,500 petabytes of star-crunching data annually; in comparison, CERN's Large Hadron Collider generates a meager 15 petabytes per year. "If you take the current global daily internet traffic and multiply it by two, you are in the range the data set that the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope will be collecting every day," says IBM researcher Ton Engbersen. "This is big data analytics to the extreme."

What obstacles must be overcome?
The project will require enormous amounts of energy, for starters. So first, researchers must investigate "low-power usage" technology needed just to make the telescope's "processing horsepower" feasible, says Larry Dignan at CNET.

Sources: CNETDaily Tech, Mashable, TIME

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