Fujitsu Powers High Altitude Super for ALMA Telescope

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In a daunting project that began more than six years ago, Fujitsu has designed the fastest computer ever used at an astronomical site.

To be built high on the Chajnantor desert plateau in the Chilean Andes, the ALMA array is destined to be the world’s most powerful radio telescope. When it becomes fully operational, its 66 high-precision, giant antennas — which act as a single, giant telescope — will gather vast volumes of radio wave data from the distant universe with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution.

Despite numerous observers maintaining that designing a system for such an extreme environment was almost impossible, Fujitsu created a bespoke supercomputer, Atacama Compact Array Correlator for ALMA, to make sense of the huge data stream. Using diskless storage and a sophisticated cooling system, the correlator can perform interference processing in real time at 88 trillion operations per second under hostile desert conditions at a pressure of 0.5 atmospheres. Fujitsu also developed the correlator control system based on PRIMERGY Linux servers. Both the correlators and correlator control system built by Fujitsu are installed on the desert plateau at an altitude of 5,000 m.

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