Did you know that you could make an astronomical discovery while doing your laundry, working in your garden, having dinner or watching television? In fact, as long as your computer is on, you could be the next person to discover a unique object in space.
Einstein@Home (E@H) is a volunteer-based project that engages members of the public in the search for gravitational waves in data taken with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. Recently, the project has also begun searching radio telescope for new pulsars. Members “sign up” their home or office computers, which automatically carry out analyses of data from the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico taken by an international team including WVU astrophysicists Duncan Lorimer and Maura McLaughlin.
Pulsars are superdense neutron stars, the corpses of massive stars that have exploded as supernovae. As the neutron star spins, lighthouse-like beams of radio waves, streaming from the poles of its powerful magnetic field, sweep through space. When one of these beams sweeps across the Earth, radio telescopes can capture the pulse of radio waves.
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Pulsars serve as exotic laboratories for studying the physics of extreme conditions. Scientists can learn valuable new information about the physics of subatomic particles, electromagnetics and general relativity by observing pulsars and the changes they undergo over time.
To date, more than 250,000 individuals have contributed their computers to the project; each week about 100,000 different computers are processing data while their computers are idle. The power of this combined computer network is on par with the largest supercomputers in the world.
On 11 July, pulsar PSR J2007+2722 was discovered using the E@H program. Follow-up observations were done by the Green Bank Telescope, Green Bank, W.Va.; the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory in the United Kingdom; the radio telescope at Effelsberg, Germany; the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope in the Netherlands; and Arecibo.
Lorimer and McLaughlin worked with high-school teachers involved in West Virginia University’s Pulsar Search Collaboratory project to use the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope to confirm the discovery and obtain sensitive measurements of the properties of the new pulsar.
The Pulsar Search Collaboratory is a three-year program headed by the WVU Department of Physics and funded by the National Science Foundation. It engages students and teachers from West Virginia and other states in a massive search for new pulsars.
The Green Bank Telescope has helped astronomers discover more than 60 pulsars over the past five years, including the fastest rotating pulsar ever found, a speedster spinning 716 times per second.
Details of the discovery and its subsequent confirmation will be published in Science. The article is available today in Sciencexpress (http://www.sciencemag.org/sciencexpress/recent.dtl), the printed publication’s online companion.
You can include your computer in the search for new pulsars by visiting http://www.einsteinathome.org.
CONTACT: Maura McLaughlin, Department of Physics
304-293-3422, ext 1475; Maura.McLaughlin@mail.wvu.edu
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