Computing project aims to put astronomy data, tools in scientists’ hands

A three-year, $2.5-million project aims to boost astronomy research by furthering the collaboration of two key organizations, one of them in Victoria.

The co-operative effort will see the National Research Council’s Victoria-based Canadian Astronomy Data Centre do more work with Compute Canada, said council spokesman David Schade.

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“The situation is that the National Research Council has been operating one of the largest data centres in astronomy in the world for about 30 years,” he said.

“We serve the university research community with data from all sorts of telescopes all over the world, and in space.

“Compute Canada has the mandate to serve all the academic research communities in Canada with computing power, so these two sides have come together — where we are the data side and they are the computing side.”

The idea is to integrate the services that each offers, Schade said, something that has already begun.

“By doing this, we’re offering astronomers in Canada — and, actually, around the world — access to data, but also to all sorts of services that help them process and analyze and visualize those data.”

The project is sure to make a difference to researchers, Schade said.

In the past, scientists would download data from the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre, he said, but the data sets are too big now.

“It’s a challenge to move them across the network and it’s a challenge to process them, so … we’re putting together the storage, the data and processing of the data so that people can actually do the processing over the World Wide Web without moving the data to their own institution.”

Some of the large sets of data encountered at the Astronomy Data Centre have come from such things as the discovery of new dwarf planets and guiding the first close venture by a spacecraft to Pluto. They have been processed with an existing research platform known as the Canadian Advanced Network for Astronomical Research.

The new initiative will have a wide-ranging effect, Schade said.

“This is not just a Canadian endeavour,” he said. “Most sciences and certainly astronomy are very, very international in scope.”

Research into many fields, ranging from medicine to social sciences, could also benefit from the advances.

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