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SKA launches data challenge

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“We’re testing methods to efficiently and accurately discover and classify objects. SKA images will be crowded with sources, so this process has to be automated”

RESOLUTION: A snapshot from the SKA Science Data Challenge image, showing a large Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN) as if observed by SKA-mid at 1.4 GHz. Picture: SKA Organisation

THE SQUARE Kilometre Array Organisation (SKAO) has released its first ever Science Data Challenge, giving astronomers a taste of the highly detailed images that the SKA telescope, to be situated in a remote area of the Northern Cape, will produce.

Developed by the SKAO’s Project Science team, the challenge requires the analysis of a series of high resolution images created through data simulations. Researchers are invited to download the images and use their own software to find, identify and classify the sources.

The key aim of the series of Data Challenges is to prepare the science community for the kind of data products they will receive from SKA observations and to gather valuable feedback which will inform the development of data reduction procedures.

“We’re testing methods to efficiently and accurately discover and classify objects. SKA images will be crowded with sources, so this process has to be automated,” SKA science director, Dr Robert Braun, said.

“We want to know what astronomers can deduce from these images, and what it is that has led them to those conclusions. We’re also eager for the wider astronomy and physics community to get involved in the challenge, beyond the radio community, so that we can share in their expertise and ideas,” Braun added.

The first Science Data Challenge consists of nine large images, each being about 32 000 pixels on each side and 4GB in size. They show how the SKA’s mid-frequency array, to be located in the Northern Cape, would see the radio sky at three different frequencies (560 MHz, 1.4 GHz and 9.2 GHz), and at three depths: eight hours, 100 hours and 1 000 hours of observing time.

A longer observation allows astronomers to see deeper into the universe, revealing more objects within the field of view. Future Science Data Challenges will also simulate datasets for the SKA’s low-frequency telescope, which will be sited in Australia.

“This is an exceptionally detailed representation of the sky offering a wealth of information for astronomers,” SKA project scientist, Dr Anna Bonaldi, who has been leading development of the data challenge, said.

“We are excited to see what our colleagues are able to draw from this, and from our future challenges which will become progressively more sophisticated over the next few years. At 4GB each, these images are already complex but they’re just a fraction of the size of a full SKA image, so we can think of this as a ‘warm-up’, to get people ready for much bigger things,” she added.

To create the images, Bonaldi used a statistical model for the kinds of sources that occur throughout the universe, based on the most recent sky surveys carried out at many different frequencies. This allowed her to predict what the SKA, as a hugely sensitive telescope, would be able to see.

Responses to this first Data Challenge that are submitted by March 15 2019 will be evaluated and presented at the SKA Science Conference the following month.