The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

Find Pulsars and Black Holes With Einstein@Home

Many people are familair with the SETI@Home Project where your spare CPU cycles help search for extraterrestrial radio signals.  Universe Today had a nice story on the next step of the Einstien@Home Project.

Einstein@Home will let your computer join in the serach exotic objects such as binary pulars or a pulsar orbiting a black hole.  First, a quick tutorial on what these things are.

A pulsar is a leftover from a supernova explosion.  At the end of their lives, massive stars blow up.  The core of the star collapses leaving behind a small ball (about 6 miles across or so) of neturons.  This little ball has more mass than our Sun crushed down to a very small sphere.  The density is incredible, it’s like a city size atomic nucleus.  When the core collapses, it stars spinning faster (just like a figure skater pulling in her arms spins faster).  The spin, combined with the neutron stars magnetic field, gives off pulses of radio waves on a regular basis, frequently a few dozen times per second.

Sometimes we get two of these stars orbiting each other.  These are hard to detect, especially if they have orbital periods shorter than an hour.  The shorter the orbital period, the closer together they are.  As two pulsars orbit each other, they give off enery (in the form of gravity waves) and slowly spiral into each other and will eventually collide giving off gamma rays, gravity waves, and forming a black hole. It would be fun if we could find these things in advance to watch them do this!  We have some experiments such as LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory) that could potentially see these gravity waves.

The program will also search for pulsars orbiting black holes.  A black hole is even more extreme than a neutron star, a region of space with so much mass packed into such a small space that not even light can escape.

To join the search, simply download the Bionic software and enter the url http://einstein.phys.uwm.edu/ when promted so you search for pulsars and black holes.

Gravity waves were predicted by Einstien almost 100 years ago.  They are very difficult to detect and we are just getting to the point where we might be able to find them.  This project will help us figure out how often we should see them as we learn how often these types of mergers occur. And I really want to find gravity waves!

March 25, 2009 - Posted by | Astronomy, Black Holes, citizen science

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