Modern astronomy is more dependent on Big Data than ever before – with computational modelling, access to data in real-time and huge storage capabilities critical for theoretical, radio, optical and gravitational wave science. Astronomers must now deal with complex data issues in a space that has become highly specialised, while also attempting to conduct observations and complete ongoing research. As a result, the professionals at Astronomy Data and Computing Services (ADACS) have never been more invaluable to the Australian astronomy community, allowing them to concentrate on the work they do best while taking care of all their data requirements.
Established by AAL in 2017, ADACS is as a national initiative created for the benefit of all Australian-based astronomers, with the aim to assist in maximising their scientific return from data and computing infrastructure via training, support and expertise. ADACS is delivered jointly by Swinburne University of Technology, Curtin University and recently, Macquarie University.
The Gravitational Wave Data Centre (GWDC) was established in 2019 alongside the Swinburne ADACS team. Since then, it has been the premier Australian facility for the burgeoning field of gravitational wave science. Created to provide infrastructure, training and support to gravitational wave researchers across the country, the GWDC enables Australian researchers to lead the discovery of events from the latest data on an international scale and to maximise the scientific impact of their discoveries. In this capacity, operations of GWDC are closely aligned with ADACS.
In the era of big data, Australian astronomers have a powerful strategic advantage to help them extract insights from the immense data volumes that characterise modern astronomy. ADACS was established to remove the computational bottlenecks for astronomers that were creating barriers to scientific discovery. According to Dr Gregory Poole, Astronomy Data Science Coordinator, ADACS allows scientists focus on their research without having to deal with managing their increasing amount of data. “For astronomers there is an ever increasing demand for more long-term and short-term data storage, computational cycles to process data or perform simulations, and the necessary codes for data processing and simulations,” he said. “Once the data are processed, its curation and presentation to the outside world requires suitable databases, media and portals. These technical challenges are compounded by modern astronomy facilities that can generate raw data at over 100 terabytes per day, and their intermediate data products often tally to multiple petabytes per year.”
Recent recipients of ADACS expertise, Swinburne’s Associate Professors Edward Taylor and Michelle Cluver, are undertaking an ambitious project to make a gravitational map of the Southern skies using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) VISTA telescope in Chile (as part of the 4MOST project). A similar program is being undertaken in the Northern hemisphere at a cost of $75 million (USD). “But we had to work out how we could do it on a much smaller budget,” Cluver said.
While Cluver and Taylor were successful in winning 235 nights over a five-year period to complete their map of the Southern sky, Taylor first needed to identify which astronomical targets to focus on. “I can look at a patch of sky on my computer and achieve that but looking at 120,000 patches of sky would take 80 years,” he said. “Which is where the fantastic people at ADACS came in.”
The software engineers at ADACS helped to analyse all their data using Swinburne’s OzSTAR supercomputer, so that what might have taken 80 years could be done within just a few weeks. “It’s brilliant,” says Taylor, “over the summer break we found and measured something like 500 million stars and galaxies. Out of this, we then handpicked 5 million galaxies that we hope will help us create a 3D gravitational map of the Universe from the Southern Hemisphere, shedding light on how stars and galaxies form and die.” During the life of the project, Cluver and Taylor aim to measure the mass and motion of each galaxy, determining their distance from us. This will give astronomers a much greater understanding of our local universe (up to three billion light years away), which is currently a region that astronomers lack key information about.
The results of the project will also be highly relevant to other galaxy surveys undertaken at major Australian and international observatories, including the future Square Kilometre Array and Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST).
See the original article published in The Australian.
The GWDC OzGrav Retreat was held in Canberra from November 23-25 2022. It provided an excellent forum for engagement with the primary GWDC userbase, i.e. the Australian GW research community, of which approximately 100 members attended the retreat. The session delivered by GWDC featured a short overview of the GWDC, including priorities, outcomes and future plans and then moved on to an interactive component using an online tool, aimed at seeking audience feedback on operations and importantly conducting a user testing exercise involving interfaces to GWDC products. This simple testing exercise provided a wealth of useful information from a captive audience of experts and non-experts which will be incorporated into further developments in the near future.
Representatives from AAO Macquarie (Data Central) and ADACS (Swinburne and Curtin nodes) travelled to Canberra as part of an AAL delegation to take part in a two-hour presentation to the Department of Education (DE) on the capabilities within NCRIS-funded astronomy data and computing activities, and their application to the broader scientific community. ADACS featured strongly in the successful two-hour presentation, greatly engaging the representatives from DE, who were keen to understand the applicability to the wider data environment which is evolving at an ever-increasing pace.
AAL was delighted by the recent formalisation of AAO Macquarie as a new node of Astronomy Data and Computing Services (ADACS).
We are excited to formally partner with Swinburne and Curtin Universities on the ADACS project, continuing our long tradition of driving excellence in the astronomy software space. The partnership represents an opportunity for us to help astronomers solve some of their immediate computing and software problems through the ADACS scheme, while continuing our existing programme to build innovative software and tools anticipating future challenges and leveraging new technologies.
ADACS was recently awarded $6M from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). This funding will allow ADACS to continue supporting the astronomy community with their expertise and training, maximising the scientific return from data and computing infrastructure. It will also enable continued support for the Gravitational Wave Data Centre (GWDC), allowing Australia to meet its existing commitments both domestically and internationally, while also retaining vital operational resources. The GWDC provides the infrastructure, training, and support to enable gravitational wave researchers nationally to lead the discovery of events from the latest data on an international scale.