The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope. SKA can help determine the origins and fate of the universe, study the evolution of galaxies, explore mysterious fields such as dark energy, and aid in the search for extraterrestrial civilizations. In probing pulsars and black holes, SKA is also able to explore the effects of strong gravitational fields and obtain invaluable insights on magnetic fields.
Once completed, SKA will become the most extensive scientific project in the world, with facilities spread across the northern and southern hemispheres, and five continents. However, this ambitious vision comes with monumental challenges. Notably, SKA is expected to generate several times more data traffic than the current global Internet, presenting a dilemma for researchers, who hope to leverage the massive amount of data to make significant insights about our universe, and expand the scope of scientific knowledge.
Fortunately, humanity’s technological capabilities now match its unbounded curiosity and capacity for wonder. As a key partner in the project, the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, Chinese Academy of Sciences signed a partnership with Huawei to work on the SKA project. Based on the agreement, HUAWEI CLOUD would leverage its unique capabilities in big data, cloud computing, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence, in combination with the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory's radio astronomy capabilities, to jointly promote the construction of China's SKA regional center prototype, and utilize AI to explore the universe in new and novel ways.
The Shanghai Astronomical Observatory is mainly engaged in cosmology research, observational astronomy and related applications, astronomical optical equipment, time standards, and synchronous equipment development, as well as providing assistance to China’s burgeoning space program. In 2018, the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory set up the China SKA Regional Center prototype in Shanghai in order to carry a series of research activities for the SKA project.
The SKA will be the world's largest integrated aperture radio telescope, and the culmination of extensive collaboration from across the international astronomical community. Its name is derived from the telescope's receiving area, which should approach one square kilometer. The SKA project is one of the most ambitious scientific initiatives in history, with currently 13 core member countries and over 100 organizations involved in the project design and development process. Current projections indicate that after it is completed, the SKA will be 50 times more sensitive than the current largest radio telescope array, with survey speed increased by about 10,000 times.
SKA aims to find answers to enduring questions about the universe, such as its development over the course of billions of years, as well as the origin and evolution of hydrogen elements following the Big Bang. Based on previous spin-offs coming out of the development of big research infrastructures, there is widespread expectation that SKA-related developments will facilitate breakthroughs in communications, medical, and imaging technologies.
SSKA is expected to generate several times the data traffic of the global Internet, and archive approximately 600PB of data every year. Such a massive amount of astronomical data far exceeds the limits of existing computing power. Therefore, astronomical data is accumulated and is idly stored in equipment rooms. Therefore, real-time observation and analysis cannot be performed over a large area of the sky, or for a specific star, which means that precious opportunities are missed for observing and interpreting astronomical phenomena. To resolve this conundrum, researchers will need to depend on powerful algorithms and hardware infrastructure with powerful computing, buttressed by artificial intelligence for crucial assistance.
Huawei has worked closely with the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory to explore new applications for AI in astronomical research. In order to address longstanding challenges related to star classification, Huawei converts radio signals into images based on the observation data of SKA precursor facilities, before converting the observed astronomical data into visible image data through image segmentation and pre-processing. A deep learning method is then used to train the AI model to recognize different star types. This process has helped identify the type and position of more than 200,000 stars in the database.
While astronomers currently need 169 days to identify and locate objects in the southern hemisphere, the Atlas 900, equipped with the Ascend 910 AI chipset, only requires 10 seconds to complete the task, demonstrating the HUAWEI CLOUD Ascend cluster service’s powerful computing capabilities. In addition, the Shanghai Observatory utilized the image recognition and classification technology capabilities of HUAWEI CLOUD ModelArts to detect pulsars. By preprocessing the data set, which contained 1196 pulsar positive samples and 89996 non pulsar negative samples, analyzing the pulse signal matrix, and converting it into a gray-scale image, the ModelArts proved capable of determining a pulsar with a staggering accuracy of 99%!
In addition to the basic hardware, the Atlas 900 comes equipped with HUAWEI CLOUD Ascend cluster services, utilizing full-stack optimization, from the underlying hardware to the developmental architecture, for cutting-edge computing capabilities. Drawing from the standout AI algorithm and computing power, the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory and HUAWEI CLOUD aim to jumpstart a new revolution in astronomical research, promote China’s participation in the groundbreaking SKA project, and inspire new revelations about the nature of our universe.