Canada's CHIME telescope taps AMD for GPU-based super

FirePro units to help create 3D map of ten BEELION years ago

Canada's under-construction CHIME telescope has taken a big step towards completion, announcing a contract that will put in place the high performance computing it needs.

And AMD is over the moon about it: in line with the Canadian telescope's hope to use consumer-derived technology wherever possible, the project has anointed AMD's FirePro S9300 x2 Server GPUs to drive its HPC.

CHIME (the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment) is designed to help astro-boffins get a more accurate measurement of the rate of expansion of the universe. It will measure what's called the “baryonic acoustic oscillation” of hydrogen in the 0.8 to 2.5 redshift range.

It uses a series of 100 metre long static half-pipe array antennas to focus incoming radio signals between 400 and 800 MHz onto 1,024 radio receivers. It will use the rotation of the Earth to sweep a field of vision making up half the sky each night.

That's where the AMD GPUs come into the picture: the 13.9 TFLOP (peak single precision floating point performance) devices with terabyte-per-second memory bandwidth will be deployed alongside CHIME's own FPGAs to crunch the daily data deluge.

While AMD didn't announce how many of its data-centre grade GPUs CHIME has ordered, this 2015 Nature article said the telescope will need 1,000 units.

The data CHIME collects will help build a three-dimensional map of the early universe: baryonic acoustic oscillations were the shock waves that travelled through the universe when it was a plasma, before it cooled to form hydrogen.

That period – the “adolescent universe”, between 10 billion and 8 billion years ago – saw the emergence of the accelerating expansion that signals the existence of dark energy.

This paper (PDF) from CHIME explains that a technique published in 2010 called “hydrogen intensity mapping” to “trace the distribution of hydrogen gas, and thus matter, in the universe”.

CHIME's construction began in 2015, and astro-boffins also hope to comb the data it collects to try and spot the elusive phenomena called Fast Radio Bursts. ®

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