CSIRO’s newly commissioned Setonix supercomputer has produced its first images, churning through exabytes of data from Western Australia’s ASKAP telescope as scientists stress-test the system five times more powerful than Australia’s current fastest supercomputer.

The new images – of a supernova remnant called G261.9+5.5 located more than 10,000 light years away – were created after the first phase of Setonix, which is being installed at CSIRO’s Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre in Perth, went live in July.

The centre has been intricately linked with the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope, which produces massive volumes of data that have previously been processed by the Pawsey Centre’s Galaxy and Magnus supercomputers.

The new image – not too far removed from the piece of chorizo mischievously flagged by a French astronomer as being a James Webb Space Telescope photo of Proxima Centauri – is a visualisation of measurements of changes to interstellar magnetic fields created after the explosion of a dying star sent masses of material through space at high speeds.

The image was created within Setonix’s first 24 hours online, as scientists explore the capabilities of the new system using a port of their ASKAPsoft data-processing platform to the new supercomputer.

It is far more detailed than any other previously available image of the remnant, confirming that the power of the Setonix system “opens up the possibility of studying this remnant and the physical properties of the interstellar medium in unprecedented detail,” ASKAP team researcher Dr Wasim Raja and supercomputing applications specialist Dr Pascal Jahan Elahi explained.

First announced last September, the $48 million Setonix system (named after the scientific name for the quokka, Setonix brachyurus) is part of a $70 million Pawsey infrastructure upgrade, and will be up to 30 times more powerful than Galaxy and Magnus.

Setonix has increased the facility’s computing power by 45 per cent and feeding it data from ASKAP was, Elahi said, “a great way to stress-test the Setonix system and see what is possible.”

Setonix is being implemented in two phases, and by the time it’s complete around year’s end it will feature 200,000 CPU cores, 750 graphics processing unit (GPU) cores and 548 terabytes of RAM.

That will make it one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, with its projected 50 petaFLOPS of computing power potentially pushing it into the global top 10 list.

According to the supercomputer industry’s Top 500 leaderboard, Australia’s fastest supercomputer is currently the Gadi system installed within National Computational Infrastructure Australia, which is ranked 57th and provides 9.26 petaFLOPS of computing power.

Setonix will be five times faster, supporting academic researchers around Australia and continuing to work in lockstep with the ASKAP team as they complete a series of sky surveys that will produce oceans of new data.

Visualising the universe

ASKAP’s first full survey of the sky involved 300 hours of scanning that produced 13.5 exabytes (13.5 million terabytes) of raw data, which was processed by Pawsey’s Galaxy supercomputer to produce 903 images and 26 terabytes of final data.

Setonix will raise the stakes dramatically, with “large, shared memory [that] will allow us to use more of our software features and further enhance the quality of our images,” said Raja.

“This means we will be able to unearth more from the ASKAP data… [by allowing] data teams to process more of the vast amounts of data coming in from many projects in a fraction of the time, [Setonix] will not only enable researchers to better understand our Universe but will undoubtedly uncover new objects hidden in the radio sky.”

ASKAP is currently completing a series of pilot surveys of the sky and will soon begin looking even further into space, focusing on a range of interstellar objects in unprecedented detail.

The Pawsey supercomputers are also used by research scientists around Australia, enabling large-scale analytics such as an AI-based project that examined around 90 million impact craters, across thousands of high-resolution Mars images, to find the origin of the ‘Black Beauty’ Mars meteorite found in Western Sahara in 2011.