Einstein@Home initiative enables anyone to analyze data from Space
McGill University's excellence in astrophysics played an important role in facilitating the discovery by three regular people of a previously unknown pulsar, as announced today by a consortium of institutions involved in the "Einstein@Home" initiative. Radio pulsars are rapidly spinning neutron stars that emit lighthouse-like beams of radio waves that can sweep past the Earth as often as 716 times per second, and they have been used to verify Einstein's theory of general relativity to very high precision.
McGill is part of a multinational team of astrophysicists that is carrying out a large-scale survey for pulsars with the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope, and Einstein@Home participants are processing a portion of the resulting data. Chris and Helen Colvin of the United States and Daniel Gebhardt of Germany discovered the pulsar with their home computers, which had been set up to work as a network supercomputer whilst in stand-by mode.
"The importance of the discovery lies in the fact that it was made using "volunteer computing'," said Dr. Slavko Bogdanov, a researcher at McGill's Department of Physics. He is part of the university's research team, which also includes Dr. Victoria Kaspi and Patrick Lazarus, also of the Department of Physics. "Non-astronomers from all over the world have donated their computer resources towards running the highly computationally-intensive algorithms needed to find the periodic signals from pulsars, and this is the first time one has been discovered in this manner," Bogdanov explained.
The Einstein@Home initiative relies on donated time from the home and office computers of 250,000 volunteers from 192 different countries. "This is a thrilling moment for Einstein@Home and our volunteers. It proves that public participation can discover new things in our universe. I hope it inspires more people to join us to help find other secrets hidden in the data," said Bruce Allen, leader of the Einstein@Home project, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute), and Adjunct Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.
For more information:
Astrophysics at McGill University: http://www.physics.mcgill.ca/research/astro.html