Remnant of supernova blast captured in incredible image by Australian supercomputer

The telescope captured an image of the supernova remnant (CSIRO)
The telescope captured an image of the supernova remnant (CSIRO)

A huge explosion from a dying star has been captured in a spectacular image by an Australian radio telescope and supercomputer.

Supernovae occur when a star reaches the end of its life, and the remnant is thought to be around 100 light years wide.

The supernova remnant G261.9+5.5 is around 10-15,000 light years away from Earth and the explosion is thought to have happened as much as a million years ago.

Data used to create the image of this supernova remnant was collected with CSIRO's 30-dish ASKAP radio telescope.

That data was then transferred to the Pawsey Supercomputing Research Centre in Perth via high-speed optical fibre.

Read more: Supernova leftovers preserve messy blow-up that wrecked two stars

Within 24 hours of accessing the first stage of Pawsey's new Setonix system, CSIRO’s ASKAP science data processing team began integrating their processing pipeline into the new system.

Setonix – named after Western Australia’s favourite animal, the quokka (Setonix brachyurus) – is the key part of a $70 million capital upgrade of the Pawsey Centre.

The new supercomputer is being installed in two stages. The first stage is underway, and the second stage is expected to be completed later this year.

Dr Pascal Elahi, Pawsey's supercomputing applications specialist, said deploying this first phase of Setonix has increased the computing power of the Pawsey Centre by 45 per cent.

"Processing data from ASKAP's astronomy surveys is a great way to stress-test the Setonix system and see what is possible."

Read more: What are fast radio bursts, and why do they look like aliens?

ASKAP is currently wrapping up a series of pilot surveys and will soon undertake even larger and deeper surveys of the sky.

Setonix will be used to process the data collected by ASKAP.

Dr Wasim Raja, a researcher on CSIRO's ASKAP team, said the supernova remnant’s dataset was selected to test the processing software on Setonix, given the challenges involved in imaging such a complex object.

"The speed at which we reproduced our current workflows is a good sign as we look to improve and optimise them to fully exploit Setonix’s capabilities.

“Setonix's large, shared memory will allow us to use more of our software features and further enhance the quality of our images. This means we will be able to unearth more from the ASKAP data.

"We look forward to working together with colleagues at the Pawsey Centre, who were pivotal to this success, as we continue integrating the complete processing pipelines on Setonix," said Dr Raja.

Watch: Scientists observe supernova which pushed particles to cosmic speed limit