Pune is now home to the country’s largest astronomical data archives for celestial observations done using an Indian observatory. The data, amounting to about one petabyte (10 lakh gigabyte), comprises celestial observations performed using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) since it became operational in 2002.
Last week, GMRT’s 2008 data had played a pivotal role in the discovery that helped confirm an explosion inside the Ophiuchus galaxy. The study team of international astronomers called it the second biggest explosion to be detected in space, after the Big Bang.
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR)-National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) operates the GMRT, located about 80 km from Pune.
“There are other observatories in the world that generate large amount of data and archive them. For observatories within India, the largest astronomical data archives are those at NCRA,” said Yashwant Gupta, director, NCRA.
In order to keep the large volume of data safe and make old data sets readily extractable, the team of radio-astronomers at NCRA has developed a data storage system and data processing pipeline.
“Currently, large volumes of raw data are lying unused in our archives. Every researcher does not possess the skill to process data to generate images… However, using the new processing pipeline, data will be systematically processed to produce images,” Yogesh Wadadekar, senior NCRA researcher and scientist-in-charge of GMRT archive, told The Indian Express.
Wadadekar added, “This effectively means research teams will no longer need to spend additional time in handling and processing raw data, but instead can plan further course of research activities using processed images.”
A prototype of the data processing pipeline is nearing completion and some tests are currently underway, said an official, adding that the observatory maintains all observations made since its inception 18 years ago.
Last year, the GMRT completed its first major upgradation. During the past six months, the observatory has been operating in a wider frequency range between 120 Mega Hertz (MHz) and 1,460 MHz. The upgraded-GMRT (uGMRT) offers 10 times larger frequency bandwidth along with higher sensitivity for performing scientific observations.
“With uGMRT, we have at least 10 times more data and storage capacities, too, have been scaled-up taking into account the future requirements,” the NCRA director said.
The centre had about 250 terabyte data, till it was upgraded. “This is the biggest challenge. With the upgrade, we now generate as much data in one year as we did in a decade,” said Wadadekar.
Gupta said NCRA archives will also store data generated from pulsars. “Earlier, raw data would be shared directly to users, but now on, we plan to store pulsar data also. Since pulsar data emerge in large volumes, it will be compressed first before getting stored and archived. All pulsar data from uGMRT will find place in our archives,” said Gupta, who studies pulsars.
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