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A black hole and a mountain of data

Yeah, science! There it is: at long last, the first ever picture of a black hole. Aside from that, a completely different detail from the press conference fascinated me.

With enormous technical effort, an international research group recently managed to photograph a black hole. The news quickly spread across every news site. No matter if it’s the New York Times, Guardian, NZZ, Luzerner Zeitung or the Hindustan Times, black holes are en vogue.

While reading a Spiegel Online article, I stopped short:

The picture is composed of countless single measurements. Multiple Petabytes of data were collected in 2017/18 by the EHT. They were saved at the telescopes on hard drives and later delivered by post to data centres at the Haystack Observatory in Boston, Massachussetts and to the Max-Planck Institute for radio astronomy in Bonn.
Spiegel Online

What? By post?!

This is how the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) was set up: various telescopes around the globe worked together to create an enormous virtual telescope with a diameter of 8’000 kilometres. They all collected data. These mounds of data were then shipped from place to place. The quote doesn’t indicate the true extent of this data mountain, only mentioning Petabytes.

The value can instead be seen in this picture displaying the scientist responsible for compiling the image: 5’242’880 Gigabytes of data were collected by the telescopes all in all.

Let’s assume that an observatory at the South Pole collected 1 Petabyte of data. Let’s also assume there to be a Gigabyte pipeline from the South Pole to the Max-Planck Institute. 1 PB is 1’000’000’000 MB. 1 GBit/s is 125 MB per second. Transferring a single Petabyte of data between these locations would take 92.5 days.

Funnily, a transport vehicle or small airplane filled to the brim with hard drives has a pretty high data threshold. I’m hereby assuming a Petabyte to be transported in a Douglas DC-6. This airplane has a 6’200 km reach requiring 3 fuel stops, taking two hours, let’s say. At 500 km/h, flight time would amount to 32 hours. All in all, 38 hours. Add four more hours to transport the data from the airport to the Max-Planck Institute. The data threshold would average out at 6.5 GB per second. Not bad.

This strategy of transporting data physically even has a name: Sneakernet.

Now it’s your turn

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Aurel Stevens, Zurich

  • Chief Editor
I'm the master tamer at the flea circus that is the editorial team, a nine-to-five writer and 24/7 dad. Technology, computers and hi-fi make me tick. On top of that, I’m a rain-or-shine cyclist and generally in a good mood.


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User Anonymous

Einfach ein geiler Nerd-Artikel :-)

User SimonBalissat

Ich hatte früher mein Sneakernet über drei Stockwerke: Im Keller war der Internetcomputer, im Dachgeschoss mein Gaming-PC. Gezippte Skins für "Grand Prix 2" mit echten Tabaksponsoren etc auf Disketten verteilt rauftragen. Paketverlust inkulsive, wenn eine Diskette nicht funktioniert hat. Good old times.

User luberg

Ich wusste gar nicht, dass digitec auch E-Autos verkauft - die Kategorie ist ein Blick wert, herzig sind sie ja schon :-)

User buegelfrei

Man darf nie die Bandbreite eine Lastwagens unterschätzen, der mit einer Kiste voller Tapes über die Landstrasse holpert... (frei nach Andrew S. Tanenbaum, siehe z.B. ISBN 978-3-86894-137-1)


User draganm

Der Moment, wenn Du realisierst, dass Du auf Galaxus ein bestellen kannst...

User daccurda


User bkeleanor

schwarzes Loch*

User draganm

Fahrzeug wärs gewesen, hat wohl das schwarze Loch geschluckt

User romgspo

In meiner Lehre als Multimedia-Elektroniker hatten wir in der Schule mal eine Aufgabe, bei der man eine (damals noch) ISDN-Leitung mit einer Brieftaube vergleichen musste. Dabei hatten wir mehrere Parameter: Datenmenge, Fluggeschwindigkeit der Taube, Distanz & Datenrate. Je nach Rechnungsweg erhielt man 2 Lösungen. Uns war klar, dass wir hier Äpfel mit Birnen verglichen, was aber laut diesem Beitrag durchaus in die Praxis umgesetzt werden kann.

User Binärsprachler

Was heisst hier Äpfel mit Birnen, IPoAC ist ein offizielles Netzwerkprotokoll :^)

User fotcorn90

Gibts sogar als Service von Amazon AWS wenn man seine Daten in die Cloud verschieben will: 100 PB pro Lastwagen.

User dearheart

It reminds me, when I was teenager, and calculate the minimum size of a stable black hole :)

User dearheart

Back in the 90'ties, one of my coworker, had a 1 kilobyte ferrite/ iron memory memory core. It was heavy! But even 5.242.880 megabyte as iron memory would not create a black hole :)

User dearheart

I must have been tired: The text should have been:

Back in the 90'ties, one of my coworker, had a 1 kilobit ferrite/ iron memory memory core. It was heavy! But even 5.242.880 gigabyte as iron memory would not create a black hole :)