In our largely unchanging Universe, highly dynamic components were recently discovered: flashes of bright radio emission that last only milliseconds. Some of these radio bursts can be traced to nearby neutron stars, providing insight in physics environments far more extreme than any Earth laboratory. Other bursts however, apparently originate far outside our Galaxy, and must be exceedingly energetic.

A mystery at the forefront of modern astrophysics

These bursts are buried far below the instrument noise. Through processing algorithms that for example recognize tenuous intergalactic matter, and through subsequent classification in a many-parameter space, the project leader’s team already made a series of ground-breaking detections, resulting in 6 Science and Nature papers. Still the origin of the extragalactic bursts remains a mystery at the forefront of modern astrophysics. 

The goal of this project is to understand both kinds of luminous bursts. The project leader’s team started a highly innovative survey, ALERT, with the rejuvenated, upgraded Westerbork Telescope – the most sensitive such experiment in the world by over an order of magnitude. ALERT includes a 75-GPU cluster and 10 PB storage. 

A 75-GPU cluster and 10 PB storage

Real-time data analysis

How to match this jump in observational and compute capabilities with a similar leap in real-time data analysis? A team of eScience Research Engineers and Astronomers will investigate how to first Accelerate to real time; and how to then most insightfully Access the resulting data, and trigger global telescope follow up. Through that unique combination, AA-ALERT could help shed light on the nature of these enigmatic radio bursts for the first time – evaporating primordial black holes; explosions in host galaxies; or, the unknown? 

Image: NASA/ESA – “This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of the Antennae galaxies (NGC 4038 & 4039) is the sharpest yet of this merging pair of galaxies. During the course of the collision, billions of stars will be formed. The brightest and most compact of these star birth regions are called super star clusters.” http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2006/46/image/a/


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