'Citizen Scientists' Find Rare Star
Spare computing power donated to sift through observatory data
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2010 5:36 AM CDT
The Einstein@Home program's screensaver shows the area of sky being processed   (Einstein@Home)

(Newser) – Three regular people who volunteered to put their idle home computers to work crunching scientific data in off-hours have been credited with making a major discovery in deep space. The "citizen scientists"—two in Iowa and one in Germany—downloaded and processed the data that found a disrupted binary pulsar 17,000 light years away, the BBC reports. The object is a fast-spinning neutron star that sucked matter from an exploding companion star.

Around 250,000 volunteers have donated computer time to the Einstein@Home project—altogether, computing power equal to 25% of the capacity of the world's largest supercomputer—and astronomers expect their combined computing power to yield many more discoveries. "The way that we found the pulsar using distributed computing with volunteers is a new paradigm that we’re going to make better use of in astronomy as time goes on,” a Cornell University astronomers tells Wired. “This really has legs.”