Magazine article USA TODAY

Automation Solution to Overwhelming Data

Magazine article USA TODAY

Automation Solution to Overwhelming Data

Article excerpt

It almost is a rite of passage in physics and astronomy: scientists spend years scrounging up money to build a fantastic new instrument. Then, when the long-awaited device finally approaches completion, the panic begins--how will they handle the torrent of data? That is the situation now, at least, with the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), a radio telescope planned for Africa and Australia that will have an unprecedented ability to deliver data--lots of data points, with lots of details-on the location and properties of stars, galaxies, and giant clouds of hydrogen gas.

Hydrogen clouds may seem less flashy than other radio telescope targets, like exploding galaxies, but hydrogen is fundamental to understanding the cosmos, as it is the most common substance in existence and also the "stuff" of stars and galaxies.

As astronomers get ready for SKA, which is expected to be fully operational in the mid 2020s, "there are all these discussions about what we are going to do with the data," says Robert Lindner, a postdoctoral fellow in astronomy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

'We don't have enough servers to store the data. We don't even have enough electricity to power the servers, and nobody has a clear idea how to process this tidal wave of data so we can make sense out of it. …

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