SKACH data scientists earn a top 10 position in the Challenge named ‘Foregrounds’ in which they analysed simulated astronomical data going back billions of years through cosmic time.

The SKAO Science Data Challenge 3a (SDC3a), which took place from January to June 2023, continued a series of tests to prepare the radio-astronomical community for dealing with the huge data sets expected from the SKA-Low, the telescope located in the west of Australia, once it’s up and running, as well as to assess the most effective ways to process them.

This latest Foregrounds Challenge saw 33 teams across 16 countries, including Switzerland, analyse a huge dataset that simulated observations of the Epoch of Reionisation, when the Universe transitioned from the so-called dark ages, to when the first stars and galaxies formed, ionising the surrounding gas. Epoch of Reionisation studies aim to establish when this happened through observing neutral (non-ionised) hydrogen visible to radio telescopes.

Supported by 12 supercomputing centres in 10 countries, participants were asked to remove obscuring sources of emission which prevent analysis of the underlying hydrogen-21cm signal from the Epoch of Reionisation. This foreground emission stems from both galactic and extragalactic sources, both of which have previously observed, as well as unobserved components.

Teams analysed a 7.5 TB data cube with layers of simulated astronomical data going back billions of years to find the EoR signal. The SKACH team of data scientists secured 10th position in the challenge, their first competitive collaboration since Switzerland joined the SKAO.

“Earning a position in the top 10 of the Data Challenge stands as an exceptional testament to the collaborative synergy achieved by the SKACH team,” said Michele Bianco, a scientist with the Astrophysics Laboratory at EPFL and Head of the SKACH team.

Previously SKAO’s largest data transfers were at the gigabite scale, so SDC3a was a great performance test looking ahead to SKA-scale data, allowing participants to demonstrate what works and what needs refining. In addition to the size of the data another challenge was the simulations used to create the data, which were complex and incorporated state-of-the-art simulated instrumental effects.

The second part of the Science Data Challenge 3b (SDC3b), named ‘Inference‘, is currently open for registration, focusing on the Inference of important parameters of the Epoch of Reionisation, and the SKACH team is ready to hit the ground running!

“SDC3a and b can be seen as a first test of the full pipeline of the observation, calibration and scientific inference of the data we expect to obtain from the SKA-Low telescope. Considering this collaboration was the first within SKACH, bringing together 14 experts from diverse backgrounds and Swiss institutes, we can only expect further collaborative efforts to continue advancements, allowing SKACH to participate in shaping the future of radio telescope interferometry with SKAO,” Bianco concluded.

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