Last month, the world celebrated as physicists confirmed the existence of gravitational waves, proving Einstein right for the umpteenth time. But if you were looking to get in on the glory that comes with catching a spacetime ripple, now's your chance. This week, scientists began enlisting ordinary plebs like us to help make the next gravitational wave discovery. All you need to do is download a screensaver. The project, called [email protected], takes advantage of your computer's idle time to scour through troves of data collected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) between September and January. That's the same recent LIGO run responsible for the world's first — and rather spectacular — gravitational wave signal, of a pair of heavyweight black holes colliding 1.3 billion light years away.
Physicists aren't expecting to see another big, dramatic wave in this batch of data. But they're very interested in pulling out fainter signals, such as those produced when a pair of neutron stars spin about each other very quickly. These signals take more computational time to tease out, and the best way to find them is to enlist a bunch of computers with nothing better to do.
Now that LIGO has proven capable of detecting the spacetime ripples that cause atoms to jiggle by a practically infinitesimal amount, physicists expect the discoveries to keep rolling in. We're embarking on a glorious new chapter in our study of the universe, one in which black holes and exploding stars sing to us. So what are you waiting for? It's your turn to catch the next wave.
[h/t Nature News]
Top image: R. Hurt, Caltech / JPL