News / Science & Technology

Citizen Scientists Discover Rare Pulsar Using Home Computers

This artists drawing zooms into a neutron star and its accretion disk to show a millisecond pulsar in close-up.
This artists drawing zooms into a neutron star and its accretion disk to show a millisecond pulsar in close-up.
Jessica Berman

Three citizen-scientists volunteering their personal computer time to a giant U.S. radio observatory have discovered a rare pulsar - an energetic young star that rotates dozens of times per second.  The distant object was found among thousands of hours of data collected by the giant Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico.  Developers of the computer-sharing program are hopeful other unusual space objects will be found through this worldwide network of astronomy enthusiasts.

It is called Einstein@Home. Supported with grants from the National Science Foundation, the program harnesses the enormous processing power of tens of thousands of idle home computers, sifting through massive stores of data collected by Arecibo, the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

An estimated quarter of a million volunteers in 192 countries have downloaded the free software to date, onto roughly half a million personal computers.  The software quietly runs computations in the background, searching for unusual objects such as pulsars.

The newly-discovered pulsar - called J2007 - is a neutron star that spins on its axis 41 times per second.  It's located in Vulpecula, a constellation 17,000 light years from Earth.  One light year is the distance a beam of light travels in a year -about 9 and a half trillion kilometers.

Jim Cordes is head of the astronomy program at Cornell.  Cordes says J2007 is unusual in that it does not have a companion star like most pulsars. "We think it came about from originally being in a binary system that is orbiting another star.  Its evolution was influenced by the other star.  And then the other star exploded as a supernova and the two stars went off in their own direction," he said.

J2007 was discovered by Chris and Helen Colvin of Ames, Iowa.  The couple owns one of the two computers that spotted the pulsar among the mountains of Aricebo data in mid-June.  The third person who discovered the Pulsar is Daniel Gebhardt, who lives in Germany.

Helen Colvin says both she and her husband work in the computer field but are not professional scientists.

Colvin says there were no flashing lights on their computer screen telling them they had discovered J2007, but they did receive an email from Bruce Allen, who directs the Einstein@Home to confirm their discovery. "The program itself doesn't indicate anything special about the data when it processes it.  So, we actually found out about it from a letter," she said.

There are now more than a billion personal computers around the world sitting idle much of the time, according to Bruce Allen of the Center for Gravitation and Cosmology at the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany.

Allen directs Einstein@Home.  He says the data from Arecibo are divided into work units that are given a special number that's recorded in the database.

When a work unit is sent to a volunteer's computer, Allen says another number is entered into the database that uniquely identifies the computer receiving the data.  And Allen says a third number identifies the results when they are sent back to the project for review. "So, we're not only able to say which volunteer did that particular piece of work, we also can identify which computer did it.  We can even tell you to the second when the computer finished the computation," he said.

Allen says all discoveries are verified by a second home computer somewhere else in the world.

The software that runs Einstein@Home was developed by David Anderson of the University of California's Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory.  Anderson says the project's ultimate goal is to find neutron star pairs with orbits of an hour or less, so astronomers can actually observe Albert Einstein's theory of relativity in action.

A second major goal, says Anderson, is to find a pulsar orbiting a black hole, an object whose gravitational field is so strong, nothing can escape its pull, including light, and whose concentrated mass actually distorts  the fabric of space and time. "A black hole is something like five or ten solar masses of material.  We would love to monitor a pulsar and explore the space-time around a black hole.  Obviously, those are rare objects but we have the potential of finding them in the Einstein@Home analysis," he said.

An article describing the discovery of a new pulsar by citizen scientists with the Einstein@Home program is published this week in the journal Science.

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid