Artist’s rendering of a neutron star. Credit: Space Telescope Science Institute.

Artist’s ren­der­ing of a neu­tron star. Cred­it: Space Tele­scope Sci­ence Institute.

Einstein@Home is one of the world’s largest pub­lic com­put­ing projects, with more than 200,000 peo­ple donat­ing time on their own com­put­ers to mine grav­i­ta­tion­al wave data for the tell-tale signs of pulsars.

Now, Einstein@Home will begin search­ing Areci­bo radio data to find bina­ry sys­tems con­sist­ing of the most extreme objects in the uni­verse: a spin­ning neu­tron star orbit­ing anoth­er neu­tron star or a black hole.

And the project needs even more pub­lic participation.

Today, Bruce Allen, direc­tor of the Einstein@Home project, and Jim Cordes, of Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty, announced that the Einstein@Home project is begin­ning to ana­lyze data tak­en by the PALFA Con­sor­tium at the Areci­bo Obser­va­to­ry in Puer­to Rico. PALFA is the Pul­sar Areci­bo L‑band Feed Array Con­sor­tium, an ongo­ing search effort.

The Areci­bo Obser­va­to­ry is the largest sin­gle-aper­ture radio tele­scope on the plan­et and is used for stud­ies of pul­sars, galax­ies, solar sys­tem objects, and the Earth’s atmosphere.

Cur­rent search­es of radio data lose sen­si­tiv­i­ty for orbital peri­ods short­er than about 50 min­utes. But the enor­mous com­pu­ta­tion­al capa­bil­i­ties of the Einstein@Home project (equiv­a­lent to tens of thou­sands of com­put­ers) make it pos­si­ble to detect pul­sars in bina­ry sys­tems with orbital peri­ods as short as 11 min­utes.  The project is based at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin in Mil­wau­kee  and the Albert Ein­stein Insti­tute in Germany.

“Dis­cov­ery of a pul­sar orbit­ing a neu­tron star or black hole, with a sub-hour orbital peri­od, would pro­vide tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ties to test Gen­er­al Rel­a­tiv­i­ty and to esti­mate how often such bina­ries merge,” said Cordes.

The merg­ers of such sys­tems are among the rarest and most spec­tac­u­lar events in the uni­verse. They emit bursts of grav­i­ta­tion­al waves that cur­rent detec­tors might be able to detect, and they are also thought to emit bursts of gam­ma rays just before the merged stars col­lapse to form a black hole.

“While our long-term goal is to detect grav­i­ta­tion­al waves, in the short­er term we hope to dis­cov­er at least a few new radio pul­sars per year, which should be a lot of fun for Einstein@Home par­tic­i­pants and should also be very inter­est­ing for astronomers,” Allen added. “We expect that most of the project’s par­tic­i­pants will be eager to do both types of searches.”

Einstein@Home par­tic­i­pants will auto­mat­i­cal­ly receive work for both the radio and grav­i­ta­tion­al-wave searches.

The large data sets from the Areci­bo sur­vey are archived and processed ini­tial­ly at Cor­nell and oth­er PALFA insti­tu­tions. For the Einstein@Home project, data are sent to the Albert Ein­stein Insti­tute in Han­nover via high-band­width Inter­net links, pre-processed and then dis­trib­uted to com­put­ers around the world. The results are returned to AEI, Cor­nell, and UWM for fur­ther investigation.

You can join the Einstein@Home effort here.

Areci­bo Obser­va­to­ry offi­cial web site