Astronomers dealing with Event Horizon Telescope have turned to helium filled hard disk drives to store data generated from the network of radio antennas. The researchers working on a Milky Way project will soon take the first ever photo of “Sagittarius A”, a massive black hole at the center of the spiral galaxy.
In order to achieve this feat, the researchers of sky-watch are using a synchronized network of radio antennas with a viewing field as large as the Earth. Generally, all these radio antennas are located atop mountains in order to radiate signals in all spheres.
Thus, the data generated from these synchronized networks of radio antennas has forced the astronomers to turn to helium filled hard drives. The reason for using helium filled HDDs is that researchers attempted to collect data using 32 conventional hard drives, out of which 28 of them failed in due course. This was from one of the radio telescope located at 15K feet above sea level at the top of Sierra Negra- an extinct volcano in Mexico. The drives failed due to low air pressure with which the drive heads kept crashing on the HDD platters. So, they were in a look out for a much reliable storage.
Here’s where Doeleman, a professor at the Harvard Smithsonia Center for Astrophysics, recommended helium filled drives which are hermetically sealed from outside air. These drives not only solved low pressure problems, but also offered greater storage capacity.
So, now the researchers are using 8TB helium filled drives from Western Digital’s HGST division.
It is being reported that each radio telescope collects 900TB of data in just 5 days of campaign and that data is stored on 2K to 3K hard drives- amounting to 7 Petabytes. All the data which is being stored on these hard drives is correlated, and the signal that results is the equivalent to a single focused spot in the black hole. Well, that involves a lot of super computing ofcourse.
Going through more technical details, each year since its first data capture in 2006, the Event Horizon Telescope array has moved to add new sites around the globe. In this year i.e. 2015, the project is teemed in France, Greenland, the US and the South Pole.
All the generated and stored data is transported via Jet airliner to MIT Haystack Observatory in Westford, Massachusetts and that is where all the images/data are compared and analyzed by a grid computer made of about 800 CPUS all connected through a 40 Gbps network.
A silicon lens is created by application specific software and a virtual telescope culls the astronomical data samples into a single image that is just in gigabytes of capacity.
The most astonishing fact about all this collected data is that, astronomers use only the voice info from the sample data and all the images remains useless.
So, that is how hermetically sealed helium filled hard drives are serving the purpose of storing data at high altitudes in astronomic research.