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Supercomputing Science

Big Blue Designing Chip to Decode the Big Bang 149

Jerry Beth writes "IBM is working with European astronomy organization Astron to design a chip that will be used to help gather billions-of-years-old radio signals from deep space in the hopes of learning more about the origins of the universe. From the article: 'It's part of Astron's Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope project. The SKA will be linked to millions of antennas collecting radio signals from space. The antennas will be spread over a large surface area of the globe but, in the aggregate, they will form a square kilometer's worth of collection area. [...] The microprocessors will essentially help the antennas capture the signals, filter out extraneous data and then convert the signals into data. Astrophysicists will then analyze the data to look for patterns. The weakest signals are the prize in this project, because they will be the oldest.'"
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Big Blue Designing Chip to Decode the Big Bang

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  • by _PimpDaddy7_ ( 415866 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @02:26PM (#17133642)
    Black and Blue

    Thank you, exit to the right, have a great evening ;)
  • Side jobs (Score:4, Funny)

    by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @02:26PM (#17133656) Homepage Journal
    Could this be used to decode and filter out the content on myspace and find intelligent life?
    • by Bugs42 ( 788576 )
      Sure, and maybe next they'll use it to filter out all the crazy women in the world and find the sane ones.

      Wanna bet on which'll happen first?
      • That's easy. All you need is a blinking light and a burnt-out one. You have all the women stand in a line and tell them to go into the crazy line if the blinking one comes on and the sane line if the burnt-out one comes on.
    • We all know that's impossible! Vin Diesel has over 8000 friends, Blasphemy!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Aren't the two mutually exclusive?
      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        No, they aren't exclusive. An intelligence that wishes to communicate covertly could do so successfully via a high noise medium like MySpace.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Millions of transistors for a chip that contains a single read-only register that contains the number 42.
  • 42 (Score:5, Funny)

    by hansamurai ( 907719 ) <> on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @02:28PM (#17133700) Homepage Journal
    They should just call it Deep Thought and get back to us in 7.5 million years.
    • Cute. Too bad there isn't a -1 Obvious Joke mod, as that's pretty much the same thing I thought of when I saw the title. I can't say much myself, as I make numerous Adams' references here all the time. However, I try to make my references a tad more obscure and not as expected. "Nobody expects the Shoe Event Horizon! Our chief weapon is swollen ankles. And fallen arches. Our chief weapons are swollen ankles and fallen arches! And blisters..." - for example.

      That said, I don't think our descendants w
      • Try to make them so obscure, that even Douglas Adams fans won't get them...
    • Both the The Universe Creators Association of Aetheria (UCAA) and the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and other Professional Thinking Persons have condemed this action as contrary to the Defence of Magrathea Concealment Act (DMCA) as it can only be used by chaotic minor deities to illegally copy proprietary universes or to discern the true nature of the universe.

      A spokesomaan from the AUPSLOPTP is reported to have said, "What's the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that the

  • ...with this pocket calculator stuff.

  • This is very interesting, but it doesn't explain what is being filtered, and how it is being filtered. Assuming the signals that are being filtered are radio waves, that would indicate that the processor would need to be powerful enough to catch the weak waves (as indicated in the article), while still providing enough power to filter out the noise.

    I trust the astronomists already know how to do this, but it would be interesting to see what the process would be.

    Then it brings up the other question:

    • by stevesliva ( 648202 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @02:50PM (#17134158) Journal
      Then it brings up the other question: What else can this processor be used for? If it needs to be produced in the millions to make it financially viable, where else will it be sold?
      Nope, IBM offers a SiGe foundry process. If you pay for the wafers, IBM will make them, whether you want 10 or 10,000. Yes, you may be designing a chip for a limited design run, but you're also designing a telescope that you'll only build once...
    • by n8ur ( 230546 )
      IANARA (I Am Not A Radio Astronomer) but I wonder if these are very fast correlator chips that are used to synchronize (I'm sure there's a much better technical word) multiple data streams so that the data from all the antennas in the array can be massaged to make X small antennas look like one gigantic one (in resolution). Apparently it's a process that's much faster to do in silicon (across many parallel channels) than in a general purpose CPU.

      I visited the Parkes radio telescope in Australia about two y
    • Correlation. That's how GPS works, for instance. GPS signals are way weaker than the noise they are embedded in. However, if you know the pattern (as you do with GPS) then you can tease the signal out of the noise.

      If you don't (as with space), then you need to make some guesses and do a whole lot more searching with a lot more patterns to find a match. That's no doubt where BigIron comes into the equation.

  • by Chemisor ( 97276 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @02:48PM (#17134124)
    Big Blue Building a Baffling, Buggy, and Bloated Behemoth Befitting Betterment of the Big Bang theories.
  • Impressive tech (Score:2, Interesting)

    I think this is great. The chips will contribute a huge amount of processing power which would be unavailable from current super computers, which will allow calculations with much greater resolution so we should learn a lot.

    It would be interesting to actually know the performance of the chips. From the article,

    The chips will be made on IBM's silicon germanium process and have a typical peak frequency, or speed, of around 200GHz. They will be made on the 130-nanometre process.

    Bearing in mind that these are ASICs and they run at 200GHz each this should allow for an incredibly detailed model to be formed. Can anyone hazard a guess to how the performance would compare to

    • I don't know if the process is good for digital logic. I think there are reasons that digital ICs are generally CMOS, but I forget the particular details. In reading the article, this looks like it may be an analog chip.
  • by JoshDM ( 741866 )
    Zibbity-bop doo-wop bow!
  • I use the big bang to encode my secret plans!
  • the creationists are gonna be pissed off about this one
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by DaveN59 ( 1036492 )
      Umm, I consider myself to be a creationist, and I'm not pissed off. It seems obvious (to me, anyway) that the Big Bang theory and the creation story are just 2 different views of the same event. The universe was created from a singularity -- where once there was nothing now there is something. Sounds like creation to me. The more we learn about the universe we live in, the more in awe I become of God, the Creator of it all. Anyway, please hold your flames to a minimum. You won't change my fundament
    • by KC7JHO ( 919247 )
      Why? Because most of them don't understand the 1st chapter of Genesis? Let's walk through it a second.

      2: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

      What are they saying here? That there is a mass that existed, or was created.

      3: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

      Bang! Light ... everywhere, Light doesn't come from nowhere it has to have a source. The sun wasn't made yet neithe
  • It's a chip that is designed to have little noise while operating at super high frequencies (~ 200GHz) so that the faint noise of the universe can be properly detected. Cool!

    The uses for this, shall I say "ultra low noise", technology could be highly valuable in the sensor and biometrics market. Less noise or interference is always better for any pattern recognition... ok, ok, except in chaos theory.

    Still, I'd really like to see something on the software they will use to model the universe's noise data.

  • I would love to see Big Blue design a chip to provide a loss-less encoding of the Big Bang. I am sick of the current "lossy" versions which always seem to be missing some information here or there.
  • Where are all of the Douglas Adams quotes??
    IBM should name their computer "42".
  • And it's been bugging me for a while, but if someone somewhere knows the answer or where to find it, I would be forever indebted to you. Unless the particles that formed this planet travelled faster than light, how do we ever expect to be able to "see" the big bang using any electromagnetic energies? I'm not trying to be an ass hat, and I'm no physicist, but how can they say the universe is 15 billion years old, when it would have taken longer than 15 billion years for the dust that formed us all to get h
  • by Chacham ( 981 )
    "IBM is working with European astronomy organization Astron to design a chip that will be used to help gather billions-of-years-old radio signals from deep space in the hopes of learning more about the origins of the universe.

    IBM blew past the idea to go by the book and use OCR on a Bible to get an old testament about this instead of channeling their radical (radiocal) efforts to chip away at this spacey idea of extratextual evidence.
  • And on a much larger scale? []
  • It seems to me that there is no way to get data coming right after the big bang unless you assume that matter was thrown out faster than the speed of light. I'm just a layman but wouldn't that data have passed us by a loooong time ago?
  • It all has something to do with Diet Coke and Mentos.
  • Once decoded, it will say, "We apologize for the inconvenience."
  • The details from the artcle (which is certainly very little) do not say how this will help in radio astronomy applications. Of all the things that I can think of that would help weak signal detection, it certainly isn't the microprocessor. Assuming that they will use a digitized radio scheme, which seems likely based on the information provided in the article, the worst device to detect weak signals is the ADC which typically have noise figures in excess of 10 dB. The next biggest culprit in RF chains are m
  • Scientists announced today that they not only detected the oldest radio signal in the universe, but that that signal may predate the Big Bang itself by several seconds. There has been great success in translating the semantic content. The complete transcript has been made available to the public:

    "Hello? Tech Support? Yea, the box you sent me says 'Gravity Stabilizer' but inside there is just a ball with a little switch. It says 'consult manual before operation' but I presume I should just flip the switc
  • Chips... big bang... IBM of all companies should know by now that once you let the smoke out of computer parts, they stop working!

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.