Star Crunching

by wjw on August 14, 2010

A rare “disrupted binary pulsar” has been discovered by three amateur scientists using their home computers.

The discoverers, from the US and Germany found the object with the help of the Einstein@Home project.

It asks users to donate time on their computers, allowing them to be used for searching through scientific data.

This type of project is known as “distributed computing”. Einstein@Home harnesses the power of home machines in order to process large amounts of data.

Credited with the discovery are Chris and Helen Colvin, both information technology professionals from Iowa, US, and systems analyst Daniel Gebhardt from Mainz in Germany.

Their computers, along with 500,000 others from around the world, are being used to analyse data for Einstein@Home . . .

The newly discovered radio pulsar, given the designation PSR J2007+2722, is a fast-spinning neutron star which can be formed in certain types of supernovae, or stellar explosions.

This lone pulsar rotates 41 times per second and has an unusually low magnetic field.

Jim Cordes, professor of astronomy at Cornell University in Ithaca, US, said the object once had a companion star from which it acquired mass. But this companion has since exploded; this has kicked the surviving object free.

“We think there should be more of these disrupted binary pulsars, but there haven’t been that many found,” said Professor Cordes.

It used to be the case that if you were an astronomer, you had to put up with a lot of inconvenient hours hanging around in the dead of night in an underheated facility.  Now you can do extremely cool astronomy from your home computer, while you sleep.  The question is: if you find something, is it named after you . . .  or Intel?

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