There used to be a time – not too long ago – when the use of computers of your own at home were nothing but science fiction. Similarly research deep into the universe was something of pure science fiction. Now both are very much science present and a combination of the two – home computers and exploration – has just made a discovery that is exciting scientists across the world.

Part of the Einstein@Home project that uses ‘downtime’ of home PCs to search for scientific purposes, three citizen scientists in the USA and Germany have discovered a rare binary pulsar deep in space – created when a massive star collapses.

The Einstein@Home project asks users to donate time on their computers by using a special screensaver that also allows the home computers to be used for searching through scientific data. The ‘distributed computing’ project uses the home network to process large amounts of data and currently boasts around 500,000 members worldwide. About a third of the users are currently used to process radio astronomy data collected by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, USA. This is the first deep space discovery made by the project.

Are you signed up to Einstein@Home? Could the power of ‘distributed computing’ be used elsewhere to similar success?