Home PCs help make a celestial discovery

Associated Press / August 13, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Ordinary computers like those folks use to surf the Internet are being credited with finding a previously unknown neutron star. Home office computers in Ames, Iowa, and Mainz, Germany, were cited yesterday in the discovery of a fast-rotating pulsar called PSR J2007+2722.

It was the first scientific discovery for the project, known as Einstein@Home, which uses spare computer power donated by 250,000 volunteers in 192 countries, according to Bruce Allen, director of the effort.

“This is a thrilling moment for Einstein@Home and our volunteers,’’ said Allen, who is director at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany and adjunct professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. “It proves that public participation can discover new things in our universe.’’

The pulsar was reported in Science Express, the online version of the journal Science.

Data collected by a giant radio telescope in Puerto Rico are divided among the home computers for analysis, and the results are fed to researchers at the Cornell Center for Advanced Computing, the Albert Einstein Institute in Germany, and the University of Wisconsin.

The data sent to home computers are tagged so researchers can determine which one first makes any discovery. The pulsar was first identified June 11 by a computer owned by Chris and Helen Colvin of Ames, Iowa, and was confirmed three days later on the computer of Daniel Gebhardt of Mainz, Germany.

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