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The Astronomical Event Search Engine 93

Posted by kdawson
from the cataloging-a-firehose dept.
eldavojohn writes "Google has signed on with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope project that will construct a powerful telescope in Chile by 2013. Google's part will be to 'develop a search engine that can process, organize, and analyze the voluminous amounts of data coming from the instrument's data streams in real time. The engine will create "movie-like windows" for scientists to view significant space events.' Google's been successful on turning its search technology on several different media and realms. Will they be successful with helping scientists tag and catalog events in our universe?" The telescope will generate 30 TB of data a night, for 10 years, from a 3-gigapixel CCD array.
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The Astronomical Event Search Engine

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  • 3/4 LoC a night (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Oddscurity (1035974) *
    Will they be successful with helping scientists tag and catalog events in our universe? Will they defeat the monster and get the girl? And will they be home in time for tea? Find out next on GoogleTrek.

    Seriously though, processing something the equivalent of 3/4th's of the LoC [loc.gov] every night is nothing to be sneezed at. Over the course of those 10 years that's about 110 Petabyte (40TB * 365.25 * 10) of unprocessed data.
    • Re:3/4 LoC a night (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Wavicle (181176) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:23AM (#17534796)
      I actually did a small, insignificant portion of LSST's computation feasability study at LLNL during my internship there a couple summers ago. And yeah, the computational requirements were nothing to sneeze at. I'm not sure where they are at now, the specs changed seemingly every month, but when I left the CCD array was up to 3 gigapixels of 16 bit greyscale. I believe the observing cadence (at that time, again everything was changing on a regular basis) was two of those for the same piece of sky every 30 seconds. Wish I could have stayed... ahh well. I did get a really nice full-color research poster (that I had to design) out of it though!
      • Near Earth Objects (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Oddscurity (1035974) *
        I saw a documentary not long ago about doing just this photographing of the same piece of sky, only with longer intervals than 30 seconds. Anything moving would automagically be flagged by the software, it's vector computed. Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I can tell of this project, it's going to do exactly that (and more), but on a larger scope, and with better accuracy?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Wavicle (181176)
          Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I can tell of this project, it's going to do exactly that (and more), but on a larger scope, and with better accuracy?

          Well, I was a very small cog for a very large telescope. But my understanding is pretty much exactly what you just said.
      • by timeOday (582209)
        Just archiving that much data is bad enough, and google certainly has experience there. But what about making use of all that imagery? No human can look at that much data, and google's experience indexing the web seems only tangentially related.
        • by Wavicle (181176)
          When I was working on it, I never once heard the name "google" dropped, so I don't know exactly the relationship. We were researching ways to have the computer identify phenomena based on pre-existing photometric pipelines already in use. In my case I was taking an existing algorithm and fitting it onto a super-parallel numeric processor and racing it against general purpose processors (okay, I only actually benched it against a P4, the drawback to these summer internships is they only last as long as the s
          • It occurs to me it may be possible to speed the actual processing part up by splitting the Gigapixel images up into ever smaller quadrants, treating them as textures, and using shaders to do the actual heavy lifting.
            • by Wavicle (181176)
              It's possible. The big problem with using a GPU to handle the processing is that they only support single precision floats and aren't very good at branching algorithms. Not sure how a pixel shader would handle 16 bit grey scale pixels either.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Ingolfke (515826)
          No human can look at that much data, and google's experience indexing the web seems only tangentially related.

          Google's PHd's and big thinkers could certainly play a part here. Google is about solving problems with large chunks of constantly changing data that has patterns and creating systems to identify and use those patterns. The web is simply a way for Google to apply the model.
          • by TopherC (412335)
            My only "concern" here is that Google is used to producing search engine front-ends for casual users, and not for the scientist. When digging through data like this, new ideas generally require new kinds of searches (new algorithms). So instead of a polished front end, the scientists here really need a sort of library/API they can write high-level programs with.

            I'm no expert here -- that's just my gut reaction, coming from the slightly-related field of experimental particle physics.
        • by shadanan (806810)
          I'm thinking Google is the best people to ask to deal with this for 3 reasons:

          1. Google indexes massive amounts of data. The telescope imagery will be a massive amount of data.
          2. Google has huge data centers capable of a great amount of distributed processing. The telescope data will require a lot of possibly parallel data processing (multiple images, FFTs on the images, comparison between sequences, etc)
          3. Google has a plethora of graduate level employees - who better than a bunch of PhD scientists to stor
          • by Wavicle (181176)
            1. Google indexes massive amounts of data. The telescope imagery will be a massive amount of data.

            True enough, but google indexes massive amounts of data substantially different from imagery data. This would be something more akin to google earth, which is really nice but not particularly groundbreaking technology so far.

            2. Google has huge data centers capable of a great amount of distributed processing. The telescope data will require a lot of possibly parallel data processing (multiple images, FFTs on the
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Joebert (946227)
      Pffft, I sift through that much data every night on limewire looking for por... err, movies.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Nuroman (588959)
      According to Google (how appropriate), 30 terabytes * 365.25 * 10 = 107.006836 petabytes.
    • by cmholm (69081) <cmholm@@@mauiholm...org> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:32AM (#17536346) Homepage Journal
      The shop I'm at has been working the image processing and data storage problem for PanSTARRS [hawaii.edu], another sky survey project that is a bit further along (they have a test scope up and running on Maui). It's interesting to me that both projects are at once using conventional solutions and thinking outside of the box.

      Conventional: LSST will use a single large telescope and detector; PanSTARRS (as it stands) intends to use a dedicated compute cluster for data reduction.
      Novel: LSST is leaning towards distributing its data reduction task over Google's huge server farm; PanSTARRS will use four off-the-shelf 1.8m telescopes, each with a 1.4GP detector, mounted together to image the same piece of sky, and merging the overlapping images in post processing.

      When I was working on the project, one of PanSTARRS requirements was to finish analyzing one night's viewing before the following sunset. Early on, the principal investigators decided to solve the image storage issue by not storing them permanently. Instead, once the science for a night's imaging had been extracted (astrometry, LEO or supernova detection, etc), the original images would hit the bit bucket. Whether they've stuck with that I don't know.
      • Thanks - I've been out of the loop in astronomy for some time, so I didn't know about this. (I had a minute amount of involvement in planning for the SDSS.)

        I don't like the idea of deleting the data - there's all sorts of ways it could be useful, most noticably you could add many images to get a deep field. (Hm, I suppose you could do that anyway - keep a 'running total' image.)

        This is going to have a big effect on the microlensing surveys - they won't be able to compete with this rate of data aquisition, s
    • Seriously though, processing something the equivalent of 3/4th's of the LoC every night is nothing to be sneezed at.

      Yeah. Let's keep in mind that all astronomical observatory images are taken in a standardized lossless format, which is to say tiff. There's a helluva lot of data in every image, each individual file is huge.

      BTW,
      Venn ist das nurnstuck git und Slotermeyer? Ya! Beigerhund das oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!

      Die ist ein Kinnerhunder und zwei Mackel über und der bitte schön is der Wunder
  • Great news (Score:2, Funny)

    by rolyatknarf (973068) *
    Now Google will be serving up advertisements on Uranus.
  • Why Google? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Just wondering if Google can provide the right tool. Yea, they can design a front end. Yep, they can give content. But can they really deliver the information you need w/o a whole pile of ebay ads?
    • by lecithin (745575)
      In addition to that question, what does that say about the future of Google?

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by edflyerssn007 (897318)
        Skynet?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Ingolfke (515826)
        It says their smart enough to take on challenging and related problems that they can learn from and use to enhance their information business. This is a real-time application. Imagine if Google could, based on all of the data Google is collecting and indexing, provide a real time view of current trends and patterns of consumers on the web. An immediate zeitgeist presented in a way that a business can use to make sure it's selling its products at the right time to the right people. Cool stuff.
        • by lecithin (745575)
          "Imagine if Google could, based on all of the data Google is collecting and indexing, provide a real time view of current trends and patterns of consumers on the web."

          My opinion, they can. They just are not sharing it with the rest of the world.

  • well (Score:1, Flamebait)

    Will they be successful with helping scientists tag and catalog events in our universe?

    That depends. Can you sell advertising doing that?
  • Is arranging adwords to not get in the way of viewing planetary nebula.
  • Short time ago, I made comparisons to people that Hubble was only a billion dollars and that Google could buy a hundred of them, and cripes, lots of big dopey slothing corps could buy even thousands of them. Funny though that they will be at least part of one.
  • .. of raw video data. I'm sure you could compress that a lot without losing any detail. I thought google ran most of their data centers on fairly normal hard drives. At that rate even with hitachi's new 1tb disks, that's a lot of drives.

    Hopefully though by 2013 this will be a lot easier.

    • Re:30 TB a night... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Capt'n Hector (650760) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:26AM (#17535268)
      You can't compress this stuff unless you do it losslessly. Compression artifacts mess up photometry - if you're trying to compute apparent brightness, you need to factor in things like how bright the ambient sky is, and how much point sources get spread out (FWHM, seeing). That is, a point source that passes through the atmosphere looks like a normal probabliity distribution because of atmospheric distortions. So to get an apparent brightness, you have to correct for this effect. If compression artifacts are introduced, FWHM is thrown off, and you have no idea how "crisp" your image really is. That's why these data sets are so large. Quite literally, they're doing a pixel dump from their massive ccd all night. But hey, somehow I doubt they'll be using this telescope for anything but object detection. There's no reason to store it all except to compare a current picture to one in a base set, kinda like KAIT [berkeley.edu] on stearoids.
      • Yeah, I did say without losing any detail. Video would usually still have a lot of potential for compression. Of course if you *can* do the analysis on the raw data before you store it ...

        Anyway my point was, at 30TB per day for 10 years thats about 100K x 1TB disks assuming no further compression is possible. Google is definitely the company I would go to for that much distributed storage, processing and retrieval. I wouldn't want to manage that myself.

        • And that is without taking into account possibly disk failures and so on. Would a cluster of tape libraries/jukeboxes/robots not be a better option?!?
      • by imsabbel (611519)
        Still, the night has TONS of black.
        And even considering the general noise level, the high dynamic range of the images will mean that outside of actuall stars, nearly all of the bits will be zero.

        Im sure a lossless reduction of one order of magnitude is entirely in the realm of the possible.
        • by TMB (70166)
          It's still a very bad idea. One of the uses of LSST data will be to co-add many images of the same piece of sky to detect fainter objects. For an object that produces one electron in a CCD pixel 20% of the time, the difference between "1" and "0" in those 20% of the images is crucial.

          [TMB]
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by hogghogg (791053)

        You can't compress this stuff unless you do it losslessly. Compression artifacts mess up photometry

        This is not strictly true. What's true is that the current standard lossy compression techniques mess up photometry. However, if you know what you are going to photometer and how you are going to photometer it, it is certainly possible to compress in a lossy way without ruining the photometry. In a trivial sense, photometry is lossy compression of data (you have turned huge images into a few numbers with

    • I'm sure that MySQL and PHP can handle it...
    • by jo42 (227475)
      Damn. Wouldn't the contract to supply the storage for this data be nice to have...
  • I wonder what the digital zoom is like on that camera.
  • In another threat about the collapsed Pillars of Creation I questioned the value of that type of research... who cares if they collapsed or not. I asked... where is the value in that particular research.

    This whoever provides real obvious value. I could care less about the astronomical events... I guess there is some physics and maths and stuff that can be done... but the database and algorithms and computing systems needed to process all of this data will drive innovation, particularly since it's being do
  • by Phat_Tony (661117) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:34AM (#17535332)
    That's a lot of data, but it's less than 1/10 as much data [physorg.com] as the Large Hadron Collider [web.cern.ch] will put out, and the LHC is supposed to be coming online within a year, not in six years. By the time the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope comes online, the LHC may have produced more data than the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will over the life of the project.

    I'd be interested to know more about the data handling methods they have in place for the LHC. I don't think they'll be using Excel.

    *Note the correct, non-Frudian-Slip spelling of "hadron [google.com]"
    • by brxndxn (461473)
      I'd be interested to know more about the data handling methods they have in place for the LHC. I don't think they'll be using Excel.

      It looks like you have begun collection ginormous amounts of data. Paperclip recommends you use Microsoft Access to handle large amounts of data. Would you like me to launch Microsoft Access now?
    • by SinGunner (911891)
      Once the LHC fires, nobody will need to worry about data storage (on this planet) again.
    • by dido (9125) <dido@@@imperium...ph> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:14AM (#17535934)

      Funny, but CERN itself makes that same misspelling of 'hadron' here [web.cern.ch]. "This is the underground tunnel of the Large Hardon (sic) Collider (LHC)..."

    • by mcelrath (8027) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:30AM (#17536030) Homepage

      The LHC will produce more data, but we also don't care about most of it. The vast majority of it is junk. The "interesting" physics (particles like W and Z bosons, top quarks, higgs, etc) are about 10^-9 of the events. It is a huge needle in a haystack problem and we throw out most data. We have many experts and professors who design "triggers" which, based on a subset of information that can be delivered to them in a reasonable time, decide whether a given proton-proton collison contains new physics. Many theorists these days are making dents in walls with their heads trying to think of ways these triggers might be missing important information, so that we can suggest changes before it's too late. This is a lot of dedicated silicon, FPGA's, VME crates, etc. Slashdotters should drool. Anyway, we throw out the vast majority of information.

      By comparison, LSST is trying to store everything. Scroll up for an interesting comment about calibrating ambient brightness and seeing. I can't answer which will deliver more information, but both are incredibly interesting challenges.

      Data challenges abound. We have designed the LHC Grid [web.cern.ch] to distribute this information. There will be several data warehouses located around the world at national labs and universities. Even after the triggers decide what is "interesting", more sophisticated algorithms, with access to all the data in a single proton-proton collision are applied. Then, humans are applied to the data and we will try to dig out new signals from this.

      In all this we expect to find (among other things) the origin of mass [wikipedia.org] and Dark Matter [wikipedia.org], and we're working hard to prepare for the onslaught of data. :)

      -- Bob

    • Should be easy to compress though. Think of all of that blank space betweeen objects.
  • But can it work for pr0n? To my understanding some users can generate nearly that much raw pr0n data every frustrated night, it'd be great if Google could release this groundbreaking (earth moving?) software for those poor users.
  • The real purpose of Google's involvement is to scan the skies for evidence of other Google-like entities, so they can gang up on us carbon-based lifeforms and take over the galaxy.

    Don't think you can seduce us with your efficient search engine and high stock value. We're onto you!!

  • Search this! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by xebecv (1027918)
    Hm, Google searching space... I'm waiting for the time google will search in people's bodies and catalog their illnesses.
  • Will we be seeing the beginnings of a Google Universe?

    Impressive...

  • The telescope will generate 30 TB of data a night, for 10 years, from a 3-gigapixel CCD array.
    Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these!
  • by caluml (551744) <<gro.mulac.erehseogmaps> <ta> <todhsals>> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @05:30AM (#17536636) Homepage
    The telescope will generate 30 TB of data a night, for 10 years, from a 3-gigapixel CCD array.

    I bet it makes dull viewing. Sort of like the recent Ashes Tests in Australia. If you're English.
    • In fact, it makes watching a cricket match absolutely riveting in comparison. And with cricket there's always the possibility of a spaceship landing to unload a bunch of robots in search of the trophy... which is probably the reason why people watch it, just in case it happens when they do.
  • Why wait for this when the Sloan Digital Sky Survey http://www.worldwindcentral.com/wiki/Sdss [worldwindcentral.com] is available in NASA World Wind .. NOW. (Yet again, Google is not the first to do something)

    I just worry that with Google "helping" the imagery could be locked up so not everyone has free and equal access to the data.

  • Its routine in physics collider experiments and seismic exploration to collect several terabytes a day. The limiting factor seems to be data management.

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