A Python-based Radio Astronomy Correlator

Speaker: James Smith

Track: Scientific Computing

Type: Talk

Room: Main Hall

Time: Oct 13 (Thu): 11:30

Duration: 0:45

In this talk I present what is (as far as we know) the world's first (nearly) All-Python radio astronomy correlator/beamformer, which is currently in development for the MeerKAT Extension radio telescope (currently under construction in the Karoo).

I'll briefly explain what a correlator/beamformer is and its role in radio astronomy, along with some of the typical engineering challenges associated with building them. I'll talk about why recent technology trends have been a boon to the science of radio astronomy, effectively enabling us to build a correlator entirely in software, utilising commodity hardware.

Key to this process has been the Python ecosystem, and how it has enabled us to build our system quickly, cheaply and reliably. I'll talk about how we've used some familiar favourite Python modules and how we've rolled some of our own when suitable tools haven't been available. I'll discuss the main challenges involved in performing correlation in software using GPUs (spoiler: it's not so much the compute as the data bandwidth), and some neat Python tricks that have helped quite nicely along the way. I'll also mention some of the challenges that we've faced in the development process.

Finally, I'll rouse some enthusiasm for the science of radio astronomy in South Africa by mentioning some of the good work done by MeerKAT so far, and what improvements can be expected from MeerKAT Extension's shiny new correlator.


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