A new grassroots computing project dubbed Einstein@Home, which will let anyone with a personal computer contribute to cutting-edge astrophysics research, was officially announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC, on February 19th. LIGO Laboratory Director Barry Barish of Caltech and Einstein@Home Principal Investigator Bruce Allen (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) made the announcement. Einstein@Home is a flagship program of the World Year of Physics 2005 celebration of the centennial of Albert Einstein's miraculous year. The program searches for gravitational waves in data collected by US and European gravitational wave detectors, including LIGO and the British/German GEO-600 gravitational wave observatory.
The data is collected from signals coming from very dense, rapidly rotating quark and neutron stars. General relativity predicts that if these compact stars are not perfectly spherical, they could continuously emit gravitational waves. LIGO and GEO-600 are now sufficiently sensitive that they might detect these signals if the stars are close enough to Earth.
Finding such signals requires an enormous amount of computing power. In fact, estimates indicate that searching gravitational data with the maximum possible sensitivity would require many times the computing capacity of even the most powerful supercomputer. So researchers are enlisting the aid of an army of home computer users to analyze the data. Much like the popular SETI@Home project that searches radio telescope data for signs of extraterrestrial life, Einstein@Home will involve hundreds of thousands of people who will dedicate a portion of their personal computers' computation time to the project.
The Einstein@Home program is available for PCs running Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems. When the computer is not in use, it downloads LIGO and GEO-600 data from a central server and searches it for gravitational wave signals. While running, it displays a screensaver that depicts the celestial sphere, with the major constellations outlined. A moving marker indicates the portion of the sky currently being searched on the computer.
For more information, see http://einstein.phys.uwm.edu.
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Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette