Five Hundred Meters Aperture Spherical Telescope
On September 25, 2016, the world's largest five hundred meters Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) was officially launched in "Da Wo Dang". Surrounded by green mountains, FAST is like a silver "eye of heaven" looking to the distant outer space.
Mankind has been eager to explore the mysterious universe for many years and look for extraterrestrial civilization, while telescope is the best tool for human beings to receive cosmic signals.
According to Zhang Shuxin, vice manager of the FAST engineering and director of the office, scientific objectives of FAST include pulsar and neutral hydrogen exploration, dark matter search and extraterrestrial civilization, etc.
Before the advent of FAST, the world's largest aperture telescope is the three hundred and fifty meters Arecibo Telescope built in 1974 and locating in Puerto Rico Arecibo Observatory of the United States. Before this, the world’s largest telescope is one hundred meters Effelsberg Telescope built in 1972 and locating in Bonn, Germany.
FAST’s has a aperture of 500 meters and effective aperture of 300 meters; its total reflecting area is 250,000 square meters, equivalent to 30 football fields. FAST can receive the electromagnetic signal from 13.7 billion light-years, making it by far the largest and the most powerful telescope with the highest accuracy. This means that if one day extraterrestrial signals really reach human beings, FAST should be the first telescope to receive such signals.
Different from the previous telescope, the biggest innovation of the 30-ton FAST feed cabin is its "light body" design, making it possible for FAST to move in the range of horizontal 200m and vertical 100m by steel cable traction, thus finding the best reception position. In contrast, the American Arecibo telescope has a feed tank structure that can only be fixed on a platform due to its weight of up to 1,000 tons.
“The most shocking indicator of FAST is its accuracy, reaching the millimeter-level benchmark, which is, in fact, the real difficulty", Zhu Lichun said, 24 base piers play a "position reference" role in FAST, providing reference for all measurements. These base piers have reached the bedrock and adopt double-barrel structure; thus, they are extremely stable, with deformation of no more than 1mm since the formation.
The location adjustment of the feed cabin is also divided into coarse adjustment and fine adjustment. Coarse adjustment is towing the feed cabin to the approximate locations by the six steel cables, and then fine adjustment is made by the GPS positioning and laser measurement. "The accuracy of the feed cabin has reached the sub-millimeter level, which is the highest level of precision at home."
FAST's goal is to receive the cosmic signals, which will be transmitted to the data center for processing to find useful information. If FAST is viewed as human beings’ eyes in space, then the supercomputer's access is like connecting "eye of heaven" with a computing "brain"; in this way, the unknown information detected by FAST is processed into human-readable contents.
As one of the scientific fields that first experienced information explosion, astronomy has always been known for its large amount of data and complex data types. FAST is no doubt "the world's first eye of heaven" in the radio astronomy community, with data storage and computing needs also at the "astronomical level".
According to the introduction of Mr. Liu Hongfei, vice president of FAST engineering receiver and terminal system, FAST’s work band is between 70MHz to 3GHz; if the receiving is in full channel, the amount of data per second can reach several GBs, and the all-weather monitoring data will reach TB level. With the passage of time and the deepening of scientific tasks, its demands for computing performance and storage capacity will explode, with “amazing large” amount of data and computing.
Therefore, computer systems are playing key roles in the detection of pulsars and neutral hydrogen or looking for extraterrestrial signals.
Sugon is one of FAST's co-built units and undertakes development and construction work of back-end high-performance computers for supporting FAST’s operation. In the early days of FAST construction, Sugon provided container data centers for the FAST due to the lack of machine rooms, which is easy to move and can be used upon being powered; recently, the FAST’s first supercomputing system has been built and put into use, with the machine room locating on the 1st floor of the comprehensive building next to the FAST; it can meet the FAST’s needs for storage and preliminary analysis and processing of observation data in the next year or so.
According to the Sugon president Mr. Li Jun, after the first-phase construction of the system, Sugon will continue to strengthen research and development in respect of efficient storage of data, data processing performance optimization, system power control and fast delivery according to features of demands on FAST, so as to meet the FAST operations and related scientific research needs in the future. After the completion of the supercomputing system, the computing power will reach more than one trillion times per second, and the network transmission speed will reach 100Gb/s. Therefore, the Sugon Container Data Center can support FAST’s high sensitivity, high performance astronomical observation by high-performance data storage, distribution, computing and analysis.
As a provider of scientific big data solutions, Sugon has taken the lead in providing the integrated architectural solutions, including supercomputing, big data and cloud computing, for such fields as Earth simulation, weather and environmental protection, air & space large data, genetic research, astronomical exploration, deep learning, etc..
In addition to FAST, Sugon, jointly with the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and other units, developed the "Earth System Numerical Simulator" prototype system, filling in the gaps in China's big data practice platform for geoscience.