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LOFAR strides towards Mega-Mode Operations (and more!) with its new correlator (COBALT 2.0)

Submitter: V.N. Pandey, Jan David, Cees Bassa, Jason Hessels, Rene Kaptijn on behalf of COBALT2.0 Team
Description: Usually, efficiently operating the world's largest Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) radio telescope is a task enough to keep an astronomical observatory busy. But scientists and engineers at ASTRON are further pushing the envelope to turn LOFAR into a truly multi-tasking radio telescope without changing the collecting elements. The central theme is to upgrade the existing COBALT correlator, which receives the signals from LOFAR stations spread across Europe, and combine them in real time to astronomical data. The main challenge was to come up with an optimal design for the new correlator COBALT 2.0, capable enough to simultaneously deliver astronomical data for several science cases in parallel (Mega-Mode Observing https://www.nwo.nl/actueel/nieuws/2017/magw/nwo-investeert-in-onderzoeksinfrastructuur.html ).

The COBALT 2.0 team took this task head-on by successfully coming up with a super-optimized configuration involving the most appropriate set of components/CPUs/GPUs/technologies and network topologies. Thanks to their smart work, the resulting COBALT 2.0 can even do significantly more than the LOFAR Mega Mode requirements. The new correlator would be one of the most flexible and "greenest" (energy efficient) computing machines of its kind. In addition its future viability has been very well kept in mind during the design. This becomes even more impressive given the limited financial resources.

Yesterday, via a flawless and a successful tender process ( https://www.tenderned.nl/tenderned-tap/aankondigingen/143048 ), the final order for COBALT 2.0 hardware has been placed. This marks a giant step towards LOFAR Mega-Mode operations expected sometime next year.

Interested to know more? In the next few months, we will provide more details in our presentations as the next stage of challenging but exciting commissioning period commences. And most importantly, this increased efficiency of LOFAR (by several times) will lead to many more exciting scientific discoveries, in the years to come.
Copyright: ASTRON
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