Astronomy with Cutting-Edge ICT: From Transients in the Sky to Data over the Continents (India-US)


Astronomy has always been at the forefront of information technology, moving from the era of photographic plates, to digital snapshots and now to digital movies of the sky. This has brought about a data explosion with multi- terabyte surveys already happening and upcoming petabyte scale surveys. By scanning the sky repeatedly and automatically, astronomers find rapidly changing phenomena - transients - of a great variety. Surveys like the Catalina Real-time Transient Survey (CRTS) publish details on the transients right away since many of these fade in a matter of minutes and it is important to get additional observations in order to determine their nature. This involves being able to combine a variety of datasets, small and large, in real-time. With networks like the Asia Pacific Advanced Network (APAN) and India’s National Knowledge Network (NKN) we are in the realm where such a data transfer is possible in real time across continents. Here we describe the live demonstration we were able to carry out at data transfer speeds of several hundred megabits per second (Mbps) between California Institute of Technology (Caltech, USA) and the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA, India). This project illustrates how machines can make rapid decisions in response to complex, heterogeneous data, using sophisticated software and networking. While the broader impact covers all aspects of society (disaster response, power grids, earthquakes, and many more), we have used astronomy to show how the APAN and NKN make this possible.