Home Computers Help Discover Distant Star

ITHACA, N.Y., Aug. 12 (UPI) — “Citizen scientists” have been credited with the discovery of a new pulsar hidden in data from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, astronomers say.

The computing power of home computers, offered to astronomers when the owners’ machines are idle, is helping to sift through huge amounts of astronomical data in a program called Einstein@Home, a release by the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Germany said Thursday.

The pulsar discovered by three citizen scientists — a German and an American couple — is the first deep-space discovery by the program, which used donated computer time from the home and office computers of 250,000 volunteers from 192 countries.

The citizens credited with the discovery are Chris and Helen Colvin of Ames, Iowa, and Daniel Gebhardt of Universitat Mainz, Musikinformatik, Germany.

Arecibo, managed by Cornell University, is the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. About one-third of Einstein@Home’s computing capacity is used to search Arecibo data.

“This is a thrilling moment for Einstein@Home and our volunteers,” says Bruce Allen, leader of the Einstein@Home project.

“It proves that public participation can discover new things in our universe. I hope it inspires more people to join us to help find other secrets hidden in the data.”

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