Astrophysics Project ‘Einstein@Home’ Goes Live

A new, grassroots computing project dubbed Einstein@Home, which will let anyone with a personal computer contribute to cutting-edge astrophysics research, is being officially announced today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). California Institute of Technology physics professor Barry Barish will make the announcement during a press briefing at 11 a.m.

Einstein@Home is a flagship program of the World Year of Physics 2005 celebration of the centennial of Albert Einstein’s miraculous year, and is designed to aid in the search for gravitational waves in data collected by U.S. and European gravitational-wave detectors. Barish is director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which has its headquarters on the Caltech campus in Pasadena, California. A joint project of Caltech and MIT, LIGO’s two detectors are located in remote locales near Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana.

Albert Einstein’s General Relativity theory predicted the existence of gravitational waves, but only now has technology reached the point that scientists are likely to detect them. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space and time produced by events in our galaxy and throughout the universe, such as black hole collisions, shockwaves from the cores of exploding supernovae, as well as rotating pulsars, neutron stars, and quark stars. These ripples travel toward Earth, bringing with them information about their origins and invaluable clues to the nature of gravity.

Einstein@Home will search data from LIGO in the United States, and from the GEO 600 gravitational-wave observatory in Germany for signals coming from extremely dense, rapidly rotating stars. Such sources are believed to be either quark stars or neutron stars. Scientists believe that some of these compact stars may not be perfectly spherical, and if so, they should emit characteristic gravitational waves, which LIGO and GEO 600 may begin to detect in coming months.

Finding such signals in gravitational-wave data is computationally intensive. Therefore LIGO researchers, led by Bruce Allen of the University of Wisconsin, are working to enlist the aid of an army of home computer users to analyze the data with a distributed computing project, much like the popular SETI@Home project that searches radio antenna signals for signs of extraterrestrial life. Due to the extraordinary amount of data that gravitational detectors collect, the researchers hope to involve hundreds of thousands of people in the effort.

Einstein@Home is a screensaver-based project that analyzes data while a PC is otherwise idle. It displays a screensaver during the analysis that depicts the celestial sphere, with the major constellations outlined, and includes a moving marker indicating the portion of the sky being searched for gravitational-wave signals. Versions of the program are available for PCs running on Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems.

About the World Year of Physics:

The World Year of Physics is an international celebration of physics, timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s “miraculous year.” In 1905, Einstein revolutionized much of science with three groundbreaking advances: he proved the existence of atoms and molecules, he validated the emerging field of quantum mechanics, and he developed the theory of special relativity–which led to the most famous equation ever written, E=mc2.

The United Nations has officially declared 2005 the International Year of Physics, and more than 30 nations are participating in the year-long celebrations with public lectures, museum exhibits, and educational projects.

About Caltech:

Founded in 1891, Caltech has an enrollment of some 2,000 students and a faculty of about 280 professorial members, 65 research members, and some 560 postdoctoral scholars. The Institute has more than 21,000 alumni. Caltech employs a staff of more than 2,600 on campus and 5,100 at JPL. Over the years, 31 Nobel Prizes and four Crafoord Prizes have been awarded to faculty members and alumni. Forty-seven Caltech faculty members and alumni have received the National Medal of Science; and nine alumni (two of whom are also trustees, and one who is also a faculty member), two additional trustees, and one faculty member have won the National Medal of Technology. Since 1958, 14 faculty members have received the annual California Scientist of the Year award. On the Caltech faculty there are 77 fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and on the faculty and Board of Trustees, 70 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 6 members of the Institute of Medicine, and 43 members of the National Academy of Engineering.

Further information:

Einstein@Home web page:
World Year of Physics web page:
LIGO home page:
UWM LSC group home page
AEI home page
BOINC web page:

From Caltech

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