BRICS astronomers seek greater collaborations, plan to establish regional data centre


India could play a lead role in setting up a data centre network which will process and archive large volumes of astronomical data generated by the future network of observatories that will be built and operated by BRICS nations.

A proposal in this regard was among other key deliberations made by scientists and government representatives of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa during the 7th BRICS Astronomy Working Group (BAWG) virtual meet held from May 19 to 20.

This year’s meeting, under the Science, Technology and Innovation track of BRICS 2021, was hosted by India, which took over the presidency in January 2021.

The meeting stressed on increasing collaborations between the member countries, and sharing, networking and optimising the use of all currently operational telescopes located across BRICS nations. The BRICS Astronomy team has plans to initiate flagship projects, which will be mega collaborations requiring large funding from the member countries. One of the proposals is also to establish a network of telescopes across BRICS nations.

In the international meet held last week, BAWG has identified the creation of a Regional Data Network through one such flagship programme.

“Once there is a network of telescopes that will simultaneously track major celestial events, there will be huge amounts of data generated. All this data will need to be transported, processed and archived which can be achieved through a Data Network,” said Yogesh Wadadekar, senior scientist at TIFR-National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) and Principal Investigator of the proposal titled ‘BRICS Intelligent Telescope and Data Network’.

With India being part of building mega projects like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the scientific community is well aware of the need for possessing large data centres in the coming future.

He further said, “Under this joint proposal put forth by India, we plan to provide the necessary infrastructure required to handle such large volumes of data.”

Though the final funding modalities for the project is still under consideration and being worked out by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in India, it has been agreed that every country will contribute one million Euros, annually. The South African researchers have been awarded some initial seed funding by their government whereas the project proposals submitted to the governments of China, Brazil and Russia are in their advanced stages of approval.

Prof Ranjan Gupta, from the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) and chairman of BAWG, said, “The annual funds will mainly be spent on building small equipment, and providing fellowships to doctoral and post-doctoral students.”

He said the DST could float ‘Call for Proposals’ under the BRICS Astronomy collaboration towards the end of 2021. “Funding matters will be taken up once the proposals from BRICS nations are accepted,” said Prof Gupta.

The BAWG envisages a Human Capacity Building programme, wherein professionals will be skilled to be employed once the network of telescopes and data centre are up and running in future.

“We will engage with college, university, doctoral students and through training schools and workshops, offer training and skilling,” said Wadadekar.

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