It’s a good day for crowdsourcing – the Einstein@Home project, which connects home and office PCs of volunteers from around the world to a global supercomputer announced that through the participation of volunteers alone, astronomers were able to discover 24 new pulsars.

That’s right, you can do top notch science, from your very own home… without actually doing anything. Einstein@Home is a World Year of Physics 2005 and an International Year of Astronomy 2009 project supported by the American Physical Society (APS) and by a number of international organizations. Basically, through it, you can use your computer’s idle time to search for weak astrophysical signals from spinning neutron stars (also called pulsars).

Searching for pulsars is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack: you have to search for characteristics like how fast it is spinning, how far it is away, and other parameters. The best way to do this, is to try many different combinations of all these characteristics and just try for each one, whether it looks like there’s a pulsar in the data. But there’s no clear limit and no way of knowing in advance what the parameters will be, so this is a really computer-intensive task – which is why astrophysicists need our help.

“We could only conduct our search thanks to the enormous computing power provided by the Einstein@Home volunteers,” says Benjamin Knispel, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI) in Hannover, and lead author of the study now published in The Astrophysical Journal. “Through the participation of the public, we discovered 24 new pulsars in our Milky Way, which had previously been missed – and some of them are particularly interesting.”

Understanding and studying pulsars is very important for a series of astrophysical clues they hold – they’re also an excellent testing area for Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Each week, 50,000 volunteers from around the world “donate” idle compute cycles on their 200,000 home and office PCs to Einstein@Home – together, they make a difference. You can too, so if your computer is turned on all the time, and you’re not really worried about an additional $5/month you’ll pay for electricity, why not?

You can sign up here, and you can sign off anytime you want to.

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