Turning off the computer at night can save energy. But if you’re going to leave it on, here’s something you might want to do with it—figure out the secrets of the universe.
Distributed computing projects spread difficult problems out among numerous computers, sometimes around the world. The SETI@Home project is a well-known example, which searches radio telescope data for evidence of extraterrestrial signals. Another project looks for a special class of prime numbers called Mersenne primes.
Now there’s a new distributed computing project called Cosmology@Home. The idea is that your unused computer power can help in cutting-edge cosmology research. The computers come up with predictions based on different theoretical models of the universe that have different parameters. These predictions can then be compared with the actual data that astronomers generate—data such as the acceleration of the universe, the way galaxies are distributed, even the way the cosmic microwave background radiation fluctuates. The models that make predictions that agree with the real data are probably the ones you can trust. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation. For more info, go to cosmologyathome.org