Cloud computing to unveil the enigmas of our galaxy

Galactic RainCloudS is a pioneering project in Europe in the use of cloud computing infrastructures for astronomy research.

The project aimed to show the benefits of using cloud resources for the scientific community.

The project aimed to show the benefits of using cloud resources for the scientific community.

The Milky Way and its satellite galaxies will be the experimental laboratory for this initiative.

The Milky Way and its satellite galaxies will be the experimental laboratory for this initiative.

The Galactic RainCloudS project, an initiative led by members of the Faculty of Physics, the Institute of Cosmos Sciences (ICCUB) and the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), won the first position in the part of the Cloud Funding for Research call of the European project Open Clouds For Research Environments (OCRE).

The project competed with 27 proposals from twelve countries across a wide range of research disciplines. This first edition of Cloud Funding For Research funds the use of commercial cloud computing resources for research. The project relies on the collaboration of the private sector, and more particularly of Pervasive Technologies, which brings its experience in artificial intelligence and cloud computing; Google, and the IT infrastructure of Google Cloud and Telefónica, which provides experience in managing cloud resources.

Professor Xavier Luri, Director of ICCUB and Principal Investigator of the project, points out that “The Galactic RainCloudS project is a pioneer in Europe in the use of commercial cloud infrastructures for astronomy research, and results from the desire to show the benefits of cloud uses of resources for the scientific community”.

The key to the project lies in interdisciplinarity: combining the extraordinary volumes of data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite with the great computing power and flexibility of cloud infrastructures, and with datamining techniques, it will enable the team from the University of Barcelona to study the links between past galaxy collisions and star formation in a holistic way, a study in which the Milky Way and satellite galaxies will be an experimental laboratory. “Cloud computing is like renting powerful personalized computers, for a certain period of time, which will allow us to make the calculations necessary to study the interaction between galaxies”, notes Mercè Romero, researcher at ICCUB.

The project also includes the development of a system to detect traces of past collisions of small galaxies with the halo of our galaxy. Teresa Antoja, a researcher at ICCUB, notes that “the existence of granularities in galactic halos is a prediction of the current cosmological model of the formation of our Universe: the active search for such substructures in Gaia data can provide vital information about the history of the Milky Way and the nature of dark matter.”

Artificial intelligence and cloud computing

The participation of the private sector in this project shows the proximity between research and businesses in the use of advanced technologies as well as their common interests. “At Pervasive Technologies, we are happy to offer our knowledge of artificial intelligence and cloud computing to a pioneering project in the field of research. We will work to get the best performance from cloud infrastructures and artificial intelligence for this project,” notes Rodolfo Lomascolo, CEO of Pervasive Technologies.

To succeed, the Galactic RainCloudS project must have, among other functionalities, big data infrastructures. “Data from the Gaia satellite hides the answer to many questions that we want to answer, but we need the right tools to retrieve them,” notes Roger Mor, data scientist at Pervasive Technologies and ICCUB collaborator. He adds: “The big data platforms available in the commercial cloud and artificial intelligence services are fundamental tools to determine, for example, whether Sagittarius’ interaction with the Milky Way caused the reactivation of the formation of stars in our galaxy between 5 and 7 billion years ago. there is, as indicated in some studies”.

Enrique González Lezana, Head of Cloud Sales Specialist at Telefónica Tech, states that “Telefónica has accompanied the University of Barcelona in the definition and deployment of the Google Cloud architecture, where the hypercomputing solution necessary to work on the Galactic RainCloudS project”. “The infrastructure deployed — he adds — will allow the processing and analysis of big data in a flexible and scalable way, adapted to the needs of researchers at the University of Barcelona. Telefónica will work with the UB throughout the process to ensure the successful implementation of the project with teams specialized in Google Cloud services and technologies”.

The project was launched last May and will last one year. “Galactic RainCLoudS is a necessary step in the research world’s transition to efficient use of cloud computing resources. In this sense, we are pioneers in its use at the University of Barcelona and we hope that our experience will serve to encourage its use. The needs of research teams are becoming clearer and we are striving for this project to open the doors to commercial cloud computing in future projects for all research disciplines,” concludes Xavier Luri.



Cloud funding for research:

List of OCRE cloud service providers:

Images: ESA/Hubble & NASA, V. Antoniou

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Sherry J. Basler