South Africa’s MeerKAT telescope is a radio telescope that sits in the Karoo. In order to keep a computer that power the telescope cool in the blistering summertime heat of the region, engineers have a fascinating solution – submerging it in oil.
The process, called immersion cooling, is an alternative to using the large number of fans needed to keep the servers cool and operating.
Since the telescope requires such significant data processing power, the Ironhive super-computer was built with this immersion process in mind. Rather than being a major data centre, Ironhive is made of many mini-computers which combine to create the kind of computing power needed.
“We made a big stainless-steel container, filled it with mineral oil, and dumped in a computer,” Simon Ratcliffe, the technical lead for scientific computing at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, told Bussiness Insider.
“Electric current does not flow in this special oil, and the heat capacity is thousands of times the heat capacity of air.”
Sealed inside the box, the computer is not effected by the environment around it. No air flow or dust causes damage or need for regular maintenance like fan-cooled computers.
The 64-dish telescope forms the first phase of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Radio Telescope in Africa.
Image: LisaScafPerthLM/ Twitter