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China announces petascale super for FAST radiotelescope

Big dish will need top-100-sized iron

China is planning another petaflop supercomputer, this time to support what will by next year become the world's largest radiotelescope.

The telescope itself, a 500 metre monster that's scooped into a hilltop in Guizhou, has been under construction since 2011.

This week, engineers began installing the 4,450 panels that will make up the FAST (Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope) facility, which the Middle Kingdom's Academy of Sciences reckons will be able to detect radio signals from more than ten billion light years' distance.

More importantly, its huge size will also mean FAST can pick up even fainter signals than those captured at today's biggest radiotelescope, the Aricebo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Xinhua reports that the instrument will be supported by Skyeye-1, a petaflop facility that'll connect to FAST with 100 Gbps links.

The Institute of Computing Technology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences(CASICT), Dawning Information Industry Co and China (Guizhou) Skyeye Group will build what's to be called the Qiannan Super Computing Center in Guizhou.

FAST's daily peak demand is predicted to exceed 200 teraflops, with first stage storage of more than 10 petabytes, CASICT researcher Zhang Peiheng told the state-run newsagency.

The first contracts for Skyeye-1 were signed in November, but the country saved the announcement to coincide with the panel installation commencement.

China had originally proposed FAST as part of its bid into the Square Kilometre Array project which was eventually split between Africa and Australia.

As well as size, FAST is designed so its reflectors can be “deformed” to provide a parabolic dish roughly equal to the size of the fixed mirrors of Arecibo. ®

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