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All Systems Go For Highest Altitude Supercomputer


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ALMA correlator

The ALMA correlator's 134 million processors continually combine and compare faint celestial signals received by the 66 dish-shaped antennas in the ALMA telescope's array.

Credit: European Southern Observatory?

The U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory has installed and tested in Chile the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the most elaborate ground-based telescope in history. The special-purpose ALMA correlator has more than 134 million processors and performs up to 17 quadrillion operations per second. 

The European Southern Observatory served as the European partner in the ALMA project, providing a new and versatile digital filtering system allowing ALMA to see wavelengths of light that are 32 times more finely split than the initial design. "This vastly improved flexibility is fantastic; it lets us 'slice and dice' the spectrum of light that ALMA sees, so we can concentrate on the precise wavelengths needed for a given observation, whether it's mapping the gas molecules in a star-forming cloud, or searching for some of the most distant galaxies in the universe," says University of Bordeaux researcher Alain Baudry. 

The correlator is housed at the ALMA Array Operations Site Technical Building about 5,000 meters above sea level. At this altitude, the air is so thin that twice the normal airflow is necessary to cool the machine. Additionally, the region has common seismic activity, so the correlator was designed to withstand the vibrations associated with earthquakes. The ALMA system is set to be inaugurated in March 2013.

From European Southern Observatory 
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