Revolutionary grassroots astrophysics project "Einstein@Home" goes live

An APS news release

February 18, 2005

Washington DC, 15 February 2005 - A new, grassroots computing project dubbed Einstein@Home, which will let anyone with a personal computer contribute to cutting edge astrophysics research, will be officially announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC. LIGO Laboratory Director Barry Barish of Caltech and Einstein@Home Principal Investigator Bruce Allen of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will make the announcement during a press briefing at 11AM, on Saturday, February 19.

Einstein@Home is a flagship program of the World Year of Physics 2005 celebration of the Centennial of Albert Einstein's miraculous year. It searches for gravitational waves in data collected by US and European gravitational wave detectors.

Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916, but only now has technology reached the point that scientists hope to detect them directly. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space and time produced by violent events in the universe such as black hole collisions and exploding stars (supernovae). Longer-lived sources of gravitational waves include rapidly rotating compact stars, and binary systems composed of two orbiting stars. The ripples travel through space, carrying information both about their source and about the nature of gravity itself.

Einstein@Home searches data from the US Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) and the British/German GEO600 gravitational wave observatory for signals coming from very dense, rapidly rotating compact quark and neutron stars. Einstein's theory predicts that if these compact stars are not perfectly spherical, they should continuously emit gravitational waves. LIGO and GEO600 are now sufficiently sensitive that they might detect these signals if the stars are close enough to earth.

Finding such signals in gravitational wave data is computationally intensive. This is because the earth's motion as it rotates about its axis and orbits the sun shifts the gravitational wave frequency in a way that depends upon the star's location on the sky. Estimates indicate that searching gravitational data with the maximum possible sensitivity would require hundreds of teraflops of computing power or more. Therefore LIGO Scientific Collaboration researchers from the Albert Einstein Institute, UWM, and the LIGO Laboratory 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, this distributed computing project would involve hundreds of thousands members of the general public and increase the computing power available to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration by a factor of ten to one hundred.

The Einstein@Home program is available for PCs running Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems. When the PC is not in use, it downloads LIGO and GEO 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 PC.

The computing infrastructure for Einstein@Home is based on the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) created by the SETI@home developers.

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 of the existence of the 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 thirty nations are participating in the year-long celebrations with public lectures, museum exhibits, and educational projects.

About the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee:

The University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee (UWM) is one of the two PhD-granting institutions in the University of Wisconsin system. UWM has nearly 26,000 students enrolled in over 100 degree programs, and approximately 1,400 faculty and instruction staff. The UWM Physics Department is home to one of the largest and most active research groups within the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC). This NSF-funded research group, composed of about fifteen faculty and staff members, is a world-leader in the area of gravitational wave data analysis, and also operates large-scale scientific computing facilities used thoughout the LSC. UWM is the lead institution for Einstein@Home.

About the Albert Einstein Institute:

The Albert Einstein Institute (AEI) is a research institute of the Max Planck Society in Germany. One of the leading international research centers for general relativity, its work covers gravitational waves, black holes, quantum gravity, string theory, and geometry. It operates the German-British gravitational wave detector GEO600 and co-chairs the LIGO/GEO data analysis group that will make use of Einstein@home. AEI scientists contributed strongly to the development of Einstein@home.

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 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 and 6 members of the Institute of Medicine, 43 members of the National Academy of Engineering.

About the APS:

The American Physical Society is the world’s largest professional body of physicists, representing over 43,000 physicists in academia and industry in the US and internationally. It has offices in College Park, MD, and Ridge, NY.

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