Volunteer Computing Scores Celestial Success
Listen to our story about the new pulsar discovery by Einstein@Home.
Learn how scientists are enlisting a global network of citizens – and their computers – to make discoveries in space. Join our conversation with physicists Bruce Allen (left, in photo) and Benjamin Knispel (right). They’re both at the Max Planck Institute of Gravitational Physics in Hannover, Germany, and they run the Einstein@Home project. They are also our guests in this Science Forum discussion.
In a study published in the journal Science this week, the scientists report Einstein@Home’s first discovery – a pulsar, some 17,000 light years from Earth. Pulsars are rotating neutron stars (leftover cores of dead giant stars). They spin rapidly and emit pulses of electromagnetic radiation. Those radio waves are picked up by radio telescopes like the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which was used in this study.
How it All Began: Nearly 100 years ago, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves. He proposed that massive stars and black holes produce these waves as they move through space. But scientists are still trying to detect gravitational waves.
Einstein@Home began in 2005 when scientists realized that gravitational wave detectors in Italy, Germany and the U.S were generating more data than could possibly be analyzed by the computers available to researchers. So Bruce Allen decided to enlist the help of regular citizens. And in 2007, he extended the project to detect celestial bodies like pulsars.
Allen and Knispel are taking your questions until August 26. Come join the conversation. It’s just to the right.
- Have you volunteered your time or your computer to help a research project? What motivated you to sign up?
- Might “volunteer computing” break down barriers between scientists and the lay public? Is this a good thing?
- Can you think of any other scientific projects that might benefit from a global network of personal computers?
Volunteer your computer. Here are some popular citizen science projects you can sign up for:
- Rosetta@Home – studies the shapes of proteins
- SETI@Home – looks for signs of intelligent life in space
- Africa@Home – helps with humanitarian projects in Africa
- ClimatePrediction.net – analyzes models of the Earth’s climate
- Or find a host of other citizen science projects–computing and otherwise–at ScienceForCitizens.net.