A One-of-a-Kind Supercomputer to Map the Cosmos
A new petascale supercomputer built to study the universe is one of the fastest calculating machines in the world, and certainly the fastest of its kind. The supercomputer is part of ALMA, a new radio telescope that is claimed to be “largest ground-based astronomical project in existence.”
ALMA, which stands for Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, is an international project, which includes partners from Europe (European Southern Observatory, Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux), North America (National Radio Astronomy Observatory), and Japan (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan). The Joint ALMA Observatory, based in Santiago Chile, manages the project.
The ALMA radio telescope is a collection of 66 high-precision antennas (parabolic dishes that act as receivers), strewn over the 5,000 meter-high Chajnantor desert plateau in northern Chile. The dry air and elevation makes it a particularly suitable spot for capturing signals from space in the millimeter and sub-millimeter radio spectrum. At those wavelengths, the antennas can detect the so-called “cool Universe,” molecular gas and dust as well as residual radiation from the Big Bang.