60-Second Space

Home PCs Help Pinpoint Pulsars

The distributed computing project Einstein@Home uses home computers to search through years of telescope data to find pulsars. John Matson reports.

It’s pretty rare to find a scientific study that acknowledges key contributions from individuals who go by names like “IG_the_cheetah” and “Revoluzzer.” But Ig and Rev were big helps in finding previously unknown pulsars in our own Milky Way galaxy—24 of them. The discovery is in the Astrophysical Journal. [Benjamin Knispel et al., Einstein@Home Discovery of 24 Pulsars in the Parkes Multi-beam Pulsar Survey]

A pulsar is the rapidly rotating ultra-dense remnant of a collapsed massive star. Imagine the mass of the sun, compressed to the diameter of a medium-size city, spinning faster than a DVD.

The new pulsars were found by the distributed computing project Einstein@Home. It uses idle computing time on the PCs of thousands of volunteer users—like Ig and Rev—to scan telescope data for pulsar signals. In this case the data were more than a decade old, but still contained a few hidden gems—such as the pulsars that have now been unearthed, if you will, for astronomers to study in greater detail.

You too can lend your spare computer power to the pulsar hunt. Einstein@Home even runs on Android devices. So your smartphone could help make us all smarter.

—John Matson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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