Information technology continues to invade every nook and cranny of modern life. At Singularity Hub, we tend to focus on genomics, robotics, artificial intelligence, or the Internet of Things. But another field, radio astronomy, is progressing leaps and bounds thanks also to rapidly advancing computing power.
Just recently, the world’s most powerful new radio telescope—the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)—trained its eyes on the skies for the first time in the Chilean desert. The telescope is a linked array of 66 dishes, capable of resolving a golf ball at nine miles. That’s ten times the Hubble space telescope’s resolution! How does the ALMA see so far, so accurately? It has one of the most powerful special-use supercomputers, called the correlator, at its disposal.
ALMA’s correlator is capable of17 quadrillion operations a second, and though special-use computers aren’t eligible for theTop 500, it would rank close to number one. (The Titan supercomputer weighs in at 17.6 quadrillion operations a second.)