Saving data from the stars

Last December, the famous Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed spectacularly when the 900-ton equipment platform, which hung about 150 feet above the saucer, collapsed due to the unraveling of a support cable.

Fortunately, no one was injured, but the question remained: What about the priceless astronomical and atmospheric science data collected over decades by the observatory’s 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish? Professor Valerio Pascucci of the University of Utah School of Computing and U faculty members were part of a consortium of researchers responsible for retrieving that precious data and moving it to a secure location.

Their work recently earned them the HPCwire Readers’ Choice award for the best HPC collaboration in academia, government and industry at the 2021 International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis.

“This group of collaborators from academia, government and industry has preserved decades of invaluable data and will enable us to make many new and exciting scientific discoveries,” said Tom Tabor, CEO of Tabor Communications, publisher of HPCwire. “Our readers understand the importance of this achievement and we are proud to present this award to this esteemed group of research institutions.”

Shortly after the collapse, the consortium — made up of CI Compass, Engagement and Performance Operations Center, University of Chicago Globus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), and the University of Central Florida — was tasked with developing three petabytes (three petabytes) to be moved. million gigabytes) of data to the TACC Ranch System.

Pascucci and his team of computer science researchers from the University of Utah are part of the CI Compass team, which was responsible for evaluating the data storage solutions and designing the future data management process to make Arecibo’s data easily accessible to further scientific research and discovery. The data represents more than 50 years of astronomical observations from the telescope, which was the world’s largest until 2016.

“My specific role is still ongoing, where we collect some of their massive image data from the sky and make it available on a new portal for interactive exploration and download for processing,” Pascucci said.

CI Compass, a National Science Foundation CI Center of Excellence, was created to help research facilities like Arecibo manage their data faster and more cheaply. Pascucci is also director of the Center of Extreme Data, Management, Analysis and Visualization, part of the U’s Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute.

Operated by the National Science Foundation, the Arecibo Observatory became operational in 1963 and was to be withdrawn from service before its collapse. (Click below to see video of the incident, which was captured on two video cameras.)

Known for its giant saucer built into a natural sinkhole and surrounded by tropical forest, the observatory was also known as the setting for scenes in the James Bond film ‘Goldeneye’ and the Jodie Foster science fiction epic ‘Contact’.

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