Who Can Benefit
The SKA represents one of the highest priorities for the international scientific community in the coming decade and is recognised as an ESFRI (European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures) Landmark Project by the European Commission. The transformational scientific potential of the SKA provides an opportunity for the astronomical research community to address some of the most important questions in modern astrophysics and cosmology.
At the same time, the challenges presented by the scale, rate, and complexity of data that the SKA will generate provide an exciting opportunity for modern e-infrastructure providers and require us to re-assess current models of data management, computing, and networking. Like the SKA itself, a coordinated, global effort will be required to solve these challenges and fully realize the ground-breaking scientific potential of the project.
AENEAS has observers from South Africa, Canada, Australia and China who are accessing the design work from AENEAS as input to the design of their own SRC development planning to demonstrate international impact.
The SKA will be a radio observatory of unparalleled sensitivity across a wide range of angular scales and radio wavelengths. Its scientific impact will spread from studies of star formation within our own Milky Way, to probing distant galaxies in the furthest reaches of the Universe. It will unveil the hidden structures of cosmic magnetic fields stretching over vast distances, and examine the organic chemistry of Earth-like terrestrial planets. It will perhaps even detect signs of extra-terrestrial life as the SKA will be sensitive enough to detect signals, comparable to terrestrial television transmitters, from planets in nearby solar systems.
Phase 1 of the SKA will provide the first direct imaging of this Epoch of Re-ionization. This epoch happened around 380,000 years after the Big Bang when proto-galaxies and quasars began to form in a sea of neutral hydrogen. The SKA will be able to image patterns in the neutral gas during the Epoch of Re-ionization, providing the first pictures of Universe in this formative era.
In terms of fundamental physics, the SKA will also allow us to perform strong field tests of gravity itself. Using pulsars, the collapsed spinning cores of dead stars, we will be able to measure ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by gravitational waves.The SKA is to be built over two sites in Australia and Africa, and it will, when complete, provide over a million square metres of collecting area through many thousands of connected radio antennas and hundreds of dishes. High volumes of data will be transported through its dedicated network and intelligently reduced to a manageable size in near real time. With data rates from the dishes of over 1 petabits per second and 10 petabits per second from the low-frequency phased-arrays, the total data rates when the SKA1 is complete and starting operations (between about 2022 and 205) are expected to exceed the total global internet traffic at present day rates.
The provision of an SKA European Science Data Centre (ESDC) will not only unlock the scientific potential of data from the SKA but will also improve and accelerate the scientific use of data from other telescopes. Multi-facility and multi-wavelength analysis is a key component of modern astrophysics and the SKA ESDC will be able to support the use of data from numerous facilities around the world.
For existing SKA pathfinder and precursor instruments such as the LOFAR, e-MERLIN, ASKAP and MeerKAT telescopes, the work flows and analysis tool kits designed by the AENEAS project will allow direct processing and re-processing of data. The open e-infrastructure underlying the ESDC will enable an increased user community for these facilities, as well as supporting their existing communities.
Multi-wavelength analysis will require access to archival data from astronomical instruments operating across the electromagnetic spectrum. By supporting Virtual Observatory (VO) standards and providing a framework for utlising external archive APIs, the ESDC will allow users to seamlessly include data from external archives in their analysis work flows. Enabling cross-facility usage within the ESDC will improve the utility of the ESDC itself, maximising its community impact, increase the scientific impact of individual facilities by lowering barriers to the use of their data, and increase the impact of data from the SKA by enabling truly synergistic science.
By the same token, the large scale, rate, and complexity of data the SKA will generate present challenges in data management, computing, and networking that are similarly world-leading.
The SKA requirements gathered in the project will further advance the state of the art through co-design and accelerate the current level of e-Infrastructure interoperability. This interoperability will be achieved in Europe by involving some of the major European e-Infrastructures, and in the world by collaborating with other e-Infrastructure operators in Canada, South Africa and Australia.
AENEAS aims to extend the engagement beyond the immediate SKA collaboration to the wider community. By partnering with existing EC e-infrastructures such as GÉANT, EGI, the EURO-VO, and initiatives like RDA, AENEAS can take advantage of expertise beyond radio astronomy from the wider astronomical community and even other research domains, and reuse relevant open source technology, existing services, processes, tools and knowledge.
The SKA has been widely identified as one of the major “Big Data” challenges for the next decade. The technical challenges in computing, storage, networking, and analytics required to deploy a research infrastructure capable of supporting European SKA science are also attractive to the IT community, and have much wider applicability both within an academic but also commercial context. A distributed and federated European SRC, can provide a platform for a European and nationally focused partnership with industry for the continued development of these core technologies and hence a clear route to delivering impact and return.
The magnitude of processing power that the SKA will need to handle this volume of data will be comparable to that of the largest computers in the world in the early 2020s – systems that are at least ten times the size of today’s biggest machines. The computational processing requirements for the full SKA phase 1 system are predicted to be of order 300 petaflops – about 10 times the performance of the world’s current fastest supercomputer. This level of performance will require development of innovative management for the ICT infrastructure to ensure sustained, optimal performance throughout the expected SKA lifetime, simultaneously driving and benefiting from the growth in capability provided by the ICT industry.
The SKA Organisation (SKAO) is expected to adopt a tiered model for data and science support similar to that employed for other successful large infrastructures, in particular CERN. SKA Regional Centres will play a role analogous to CERN’s Tier 1 sites and provide sufficient resources to store subsets of the SKA archive, support significant processing and post-processing capability, and further distribute data to users and smaller Tier 2 sites. SRCs will be a vital resource to enable the community to take maximal advantage of the scientific potential of the SKA.
Within the tiered SKA operational model, the SRCs will provide essential functionality which is not currently provisioned within the directly operated SKAO facilities in the Host Countries. Therefore, SRCs will form an intrinsic part of SKA operations and be the working interface for most scientists using the SKA. As such, national investments in a distributed SRC across Europe could represent a significant contribution to SKA operations.
As the primary interfaces for extracting science, the ultimate success of the SKA will be directly coupled to the capabilities of these SRCs. Establishing a large-scale, distributed European Science Data Centre (ESDC) for SKA research represents an important opportunity to provide the astronomy community with the scale of computational infrastructure necessary to maximally exploit the scientific potential of the SKA. Within Europe, a joint effort provides the opportunity to utilize existing infrastructure in a uniform way, coordinate engagement with both European and national ICT communities and industry, and facilitate shared development and expertise. A coordinated approach also offers the opportunity to increase support and engagement from the wider European scientific community.
Of course the SKA project itself is a global endeavour involving member nations from around the world. The challenges of enabling science extraction by the SKA researchers is one common to other international communities. By addressing these challenges on a European level, AENEAS intends to act as a counterpart for engagement with other similar efforts internationally during the design and integration stage just as the ESDC itself is foreseen to interact with other SKA Regional Centres around the world in the operational phase. The AENEAS collaboration was designed to incorporate this global cooperation as reflected in its partnerships with many of the international SKA member countries and institutions pursuing similar efforts. At the e-Infrastructure layer, AENEAS will leverage existing international e-Infrastructure federation initiatives, like the EGI cooperation with Compute Canada and the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre, SAGrid in South Africa and the Africa-Arabia international e-Infrastructure federation, and the e-Infrastructure collaborations in the Asia-Pacific region.