An exciting outcome has arrived from a supercomputer which has captured an unreal image of a cosmic object known as a supernova remnant, G261.9+5.5.

The Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre has launched a new supercomputer called Setonix. Data from an advanced radio telescope was processed in just 24 hours of accessing Australia’s newest supercomputing system.

Researchers have processed a series of radio telescope observations and a detailed image of a supernova remnant was the outcome, so let’s take a look at their findings.

A supernova in space, exploding one million years ago
Supernova explosion image downloaded from the official press release by CSIRO.

Supercomputer captures exact moment of supernova

Data used to create the image was collected with CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope which is owned and operated by Australia’s national science agency, according to CSIRO.

The large data volumes from radio telescopes require highly capable software running on supercomputers. The data is then transferred through high-speed optical fibres to the Pawsey research centre where it processes the information and converts it into images.

Setonix is named after Western Australia’s favourite animal, the quokka (Setonix brachyurus) and is a vital installation to the $70 million upgrade of the Pawsey Centre. The new supercomputer is being installed in two stages and these images have been produced whilst still in the first stage. However, the second stage is expected to be completed later this year.

Group of 5 telescopes shown pointing up to space in a starry night sky/
The ASKAP telescope image, downloaded from the official press release from CSIRO.

The future of the supercomputer looks bright

The increase in computational capacity that comes with Setonix will give Australia-based researchers more access to discover new celestial objects in the future.

Dr Wasim Raja, a researcher for CSIRO’s ASKAP has said that the supernova remnant’s dataset was the first to be selected and was used purely to test the processing software on Setonix. This was thought to be a challenge as it is capturing a very complex object, however, the test succeeded.

Dr Wasim Raja revealed: “The speed at which we reproduced our current workflows is a good sign as we look to improve and optimise them to fully exploit Setonix’s capabilities.”

This means that even more data and images will come in from future projects, allowing us to understand our universe further and uncover new possibilities.

Raja continued: “Setonix’s large, shared memory will allow us to use more of our software features and further enhance the quality of our images. This means we will be able to unearth more from the ASKAP data.”

What is in the detailed image?

The computational power has been able to link multiple radio telescopes into one super telescope. The supercomputer then has the power to put together an image allowing us to look beyond a million years to a dying supernova.

In fact, the supernova is estimated to be more than a million years old and is located 10,000 to 15,000 light-years away from us. Supernova remnants are the remains of powerful explosions from dying stars, as the material from the explosion moves outwards at speed, sweeping up gas, heating it up and compressing it. That is the process that we can see in the image.

The many sides of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia
Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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