Today I am lucky enough to be in Stockholm while the city prepares for the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony. Not only that, but I am attending the IEEE eScience2011 meeting which this afternoon welcomed Brian P Schmidt, winner of the 2011 Nobel prize for physics as a keynote speaker. Prof Schmidt of the Australian National University talked us through how astronomy has offered insights into the history of the universe from the very earliest observations by Tycho Brahe here in Sweden in the 16th Century, right through to the biggest challenges for researchers today: the search for dark energy, the tantalising hints on faster than light particles seen at CERN and detecting life on other planets. Prof Schmidt’s own work, which ultimately earned him his Nobel prize with Adam Riess and Saul Perlmutter, showed from observations that rather than slowing down, the expansion of the Universe is accelerating.
Schmidt’s address today focused on where astronomy meets data. His SkyMapper project, which is currently scanning the southern sky in unprecedented detail has a peak data rate of 1 TByte per day. ASKAP, an array of 36 radio telescope dishes, being built in Australia will generate 2TB per second. This impressive array is still just a pathfinder project for the monumental Square Kilometer Array, which will scatter thousands of linked dishes across the desert (whether Australian or South African remains to be decided). The SKA will pose challenges in connectivity that today we do not yet have ways to solve. Schmidt predicted that astronomy will increasingly rely on IT to make sense of this sea of data, with IT specialists at the core of building new telescopes.
Exciting stuff for astronomy, IT and anyone interested in where we all came from. Prof Schmidt also very kindly agreed to give an exclusive Q&A on his work and ideas for the role of e-science in astronomy to International Science Grid This Week, our sister pubiication. Watch out at www.isgtw.org for more news soon!