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 user 2005-02-22 at 10:42:00 am Views: 41
  • #10445

    Help test Einstein’s theories @
    Software sifts through gravity’s mysteries
    Physicists kick off Einstein @ Home

    WASHINGTON – Physicists on Saturday kicked off a campaign to enlist
    Internet users to help solve one of the biggest unresolved questions surrounding
    Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: Do gravitational waves really

    Eighty-nine years
    ago, Einstein predicted that such ripples in space-time should be set off by
    dramatic cosmic events, such as black hole collisions and stellar explosions.
    But to date, no one has ever detected the waves. Two sprawling observatories
    have been set up in the United States and Germany to look for them, but
    analyzing the data from those efforts requires an enormous amount of computing

    That’s where
    Einstein @ Home enters the picture.

    screensaver-type program was released to the public on Saturday in conjunction
    with the  American Physical Society’s World Year of Physics celebration, marking
    the centennial of Einstein’s initial theories on relativity and quantum

    Einstein @ Home
    uses the same basic platform as SETI @ Home, which signed up more than 5 million
    computers to sift through radio telescope data for signs of extraterrestrial
    intelligence. In this case, users can search through data from the U.S. Laser
    Interferometry Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, as well as the
    British-German GEO-600 gravity-wave observatory. The program looks for the faint
    signals coming from very dense, rapidly rotating compact quark stars and neutron
    stars — prime candidates for the continuous emission of gravity

    Both observatories
    have only recently undergone enough fine-tuning to detect the signals, if they

    What waves could
    Detecting the waves would allow for deeper testing of Einstein’s
    theories and open up an entirely new avenue for research into the workings of
    our universe, LIGO director Barry Barish said.

    “Does gravity
    really travel at the speed of light, or is it different from electromagnetic
    waves?” he asked. “That could be checked, for example, if we saw a signal from
    these gamma-ray bursts. If we see light traveling a certain speed, you could
    ask, ‘Does the gravitational signal arrive at the same time, earlier,

    In the longer term,
    gravity-wave study could provide a “completely different way of looking at the
    universe,” Barish said. Such research could help unravel the mysteries of dark
    matter and dark energy — features that dominate our cosmos but are not yet
    adequately explained by Einstein’s theories.

    “The most romantic
    goal is to be to able to see signals from the early universe with gravitational
    waves,” Barish said. “They would be the most valuable of all, because they’re
    not absorbed like photons or electromagnetic waves are. It allows you to probe
    back to the very first instants after the Big Bang.”

    On the other hand,
    if LIGO and GEO-600 do not detect gravitational waves, that would cast a cloud
    of uncertainty over general relativity and our understanding of gravity

    Einstein @ Home’s
    public unveiling came during the American Association for the Advancement of
    Science’s annual meeting in Washington.

    The software has
    been in beta testing for months, with 10,000 users signed up in advance of
    Saturday’s public release, said the project’s principal investigator, Bruce
    Allen of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Allen hopes hundreds of
    thousands of users will join the project.

    Versions are
    available for Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems. Once the program is
    installed — a process that should take no more than a couple of minutes — it
    downloads data in the background automatically from a central computer, analyzes
    the data while a user’s computer is idle, then uploads the results back to the

    Each 12-megabyte
    chunk of data will be analyzed three times, and the most intriguing signals will
    be flagged for the project scientists.