As astronomy equipment becomes ever more complex and harvests ever increasing amounts of information from our skies, companies are applying the theories of big data to try and answer one of humanity’s most profound questions – are we alone?
The amount of data collected is mind-boggling. Take the example of the Square Kilometre Array Project (SKA) – a $2 billion joint radio telescope development between Australia, South Africa and the UK. Upon the launch of Phase One in 2020 the project will collect a staggering 915 Petabytes of data per day (approximately 960 million Gigabytes) – that’s nearly 2 million years’ worth of playback on a standard MP3 Player. By the time the operation is fully functional in 2025 the SKA’s will produce ten times the global internet traffic of the entire of 2013.
While the search for alien life is not the project’s primary purpose, if life does exist the dishes have a good chance of finding it. The SKA’s telescopes will be so powerful and sensitive that the scientists involved predict that it will be capable of detecting an airport radar signal on an airport 100 light-years away.