Friday, August 13, 2010

Citizen Scientists Make First Deep Space Discovery With Einstein@Home

Distributed computing reached a major milestone with the first deep space discovery. Data is processed by volunteers who donate their computers idle time. The effect of the network is a lot of cheep processing power equivalent to a small supercomputer.

"While your computer is running idle, it could be finding new pulsars and black holes in deep space.

Three volunteers running the distributed computing program Einstein@Home have discovered a new pulsar in the data from the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope. Their computers, one in Iowa (owned by two people) and one in Germany, downloaded and processed the data that found the pulsar, which is in the Milky Way, approximately 17,000 light years from Earth in constellation Vulpecula.

“The way that we found the pulsar using distributed computing with volunteers is a new paradigm that we’re going to make better use of in astronomy as time goes on,” said astronomer Jim Cordes of Cornell University. “This really has legs.”

About 250,000 volunteers run Einstein@Home, on average donating about 250 teraflops of computing power — equivalent to a quarter of the capacity of the largest supercomputer in the world, says program developer David Anderson of University of California at Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, co-author of the Aug. 12 discovery announcement in Science.
The new pulsar, dubbed PSR J2007+2722, is a neutron star rotating 41 times per second. Pulsars are birthed when stars five to 10 times as massive as our sun explode into a supernova and then collapse into stars composed almost entirely of neutrons.

The data from Arecibo was processed on the computer in Iowa June 11, and then also processed on a computer in Germany June 14 for validation. The finding was part of a larger search that returned results on July 10, which was the first time a human being was aware of the discovery.

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