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Space Science

First Pulsar Discovery By an @Home Project 70

Posted by timothy
from the turn-off-that-stupid-blink-tag dept.
pq writes "In a paper published today (abstract) in Science, astronomers are reporting the discovery of a radio pulsar in data acquired at the world's largest radio telescope and analyzed by hundreds of thousands of volunteers in 192 countries for the Einstein@Home project. This is the first scientific discovery by a distributed computing project, and specific credit is being given to Chris and Helen Colvin of Ames, Iowa, and Daniel Gebhardt of Germany." The claim that this is the first discovery to be made through distributed computing is hard to swallow; there are quite a few distributed projects out there, several of which have reported positive results, such as the discovery of the 47th known Mersenne number.
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First Pulsar Discovery By an @Home Project

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  • Folding@Home (Score:5, Informative)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:06PM (#33233042)

    Judging by Folding@Home's long list of results [wikipedia.org] I'd say they would also dispute the 'first scientific discovery' claim.

  • Re:Folding@Home (Score:3, Informative)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:10PM (#33233098) Homepage

    I'd say they would also dispute the 'first scientific discovery' claim.

    Why would they dispute a claim that wasn't made? That'd just be silly.

    The claim was first pulsar discovery, and I doubt Folding has any reason to dispute that.

  • by pirot (894930) * on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:12PM (#33233120)
    Not sure if we should be excited or be sad.
    • Excited: The first discovery based on a generic distributed computing infrastructure (BOINC)
    • Sad: Distributed computing is rather commonplace today, and plenty of people have access to scalable Hadoop clusters that can scale on demand.

    Yes, BOINC allows people to use idle computing capacity. But if we need plenty of computing capacity today, it is not that hard to get it: It is much simpler to simply rent a few EC2 machines, or get a computing grant from Google/Yahoo/Microsoft/Amazon/IBM/NSF (you get the idea), and get such projects done much faster, rather than trying to use BOINC.

    SETI@Home (and later BOINC) were revolutionary 10 years back. Today distributed human computation seems to be as revolutionary as distributed computing was back in 1999. reCAPTCHA seems more revolutionary in utilizing idle human capacity for a good purpose (digitizing books). The FoldIt project (see the recent Nature article [nature.com]), which also uses creatively human computation, seems much more fresh and interesting.

  • Re:Folding@Home (Score:5, Informative)

    by gront (594175) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:15PM (#33233148)
    The claim from TFMSNBCA is "The pulsar discovery, announced today on the journal Science's website, marks the first time Einstein @ Home has had a hit.". And later " The first and most famous BOINC project is SETI @ Home, which has been sifting through Arecibo data for the past 11 years, looking for signals from alien civilizations. (None has been found yet, even though more than 5 million users have been looking.)".

    No idea how you combine those two into "The claim that this is the first discovery to be made through distributed computing".

    Brain damage maybe?

  • Re:Folding@Home (Score:3, Informative)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:16PM (#33233158)

    It's a bad summary no doubt (I haven't read the fine article yet) but it clearly states "This is the first scientific discovery by a distributed computing project".

  • Mersenne number? (Score:5, Informative)

    by TeknoHog (164938) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:25PM (#33233242) Homepage Journal
    A Mersenne number is any integer of the form 2^n - 1. If this number happens to be prime, it is called a Mersenne prime. The summary clearly means Mersenne primes, not Mersenne numbers.
  • Re:Folding@Home (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:30PM (#33233294)

    Yeah, well it's wrong. The article nor the researchers make such a claim.

    The pulsar discovery, announced today on the journal Science's website, marks the first time Einstein @ Home has had a hit.

    That is what the article states.

  • Re:Folding@Home (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:32PM (#33233302)

    That's because the summary writer is an idiot. To quote the article:

    The pulsar discovery, announced today on the journal Science's website, marks the first time Einstein @ Home has had a hit.

  • Wrong on many counts (Score:3, Informative)

    by belthize (990217) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:32PM (#33233310)

    First off the claim in an associated release was the "first astronomical object" discovered, not first scientific discovery.

    Secondly, even that's not correct. It's the first by a distributed project with an "@" in the name. Just because a project doesn't have @home or @thegym doesn't mean it's not distributed.

    For example the PSC (Pulsar Search Collaboratory), which probably ought to be called psc@home or some such had an earlier hit.
    http://www.universetoday.com/41006/high-school-student-discovers-strange-pulsar-like-object/ [universetoday.com]

    If they want to claim that this was the first pulsar found by a distributed project with @ in the name from Arecibo based data then they're probably correct.

    It's a cool find and a great project, don't want to come of as *completely* jaded and glad Arecibo is getting good use.

  • by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:34PM (#33233338)

    Nothing in the abstract or the linked article makes any claims of being the first any discovery. All this is about is that this particular project had its first hit. The rest is just sensationalist nonsense from the summary writer.

  • by dosguru (218210) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:50PM (#33233488)

    One of the things that wasn't talked much about in the press conference was that the software heavily utilizes the GPU over the CPU when compatible hardware exists. I meant to bring it up somehow, but I was happy to be done and off camera after an hour. Media events, while interesting, require a lot of sitting still, being quiet, and not sneezing.

    Yes, the technology for doing distributed computing is now over ten years old and I was a very early adopter. So as some people pointed out that's not new 'news' anymore per say. What is computationally newer is that the projects now don't just expand at Moore's law's rate anymore and as GPUs get better it will increase much faster for the next few years until leveling off at some new growth rate. Yes I know other things have been found, but finding a pulsar was really cool. Speaking with the scientists and science media all over the world and seeing the full international scope of this project over the last few weeks was also fascinating.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:51PM (#33233496) Homepage

    Ten-plus years ago, the methodology itself was news even when there was no results. This news story is about the result coming from the methodology.

    Maybe it's not as exciting as the news you'd like to hear, but it isn't sad in the slightest.

  • Re:Hanny's Voorwerp (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fast Thick Pants (1081517) <fastthickpants@g ... m minus caffeine> on Thursday August 12, 2010 @07:37PM (#33234348)
    "Thursday, June 24, 2010 - Astronomers Solve The Mystery of Hanny's Voorwerp" http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/25366/ [technologyreview.com]
  • by Dahamma (304068) on Friday August 13, 2010 @12:51AM (#33235908)

    Actually, even though you didn't RTF[SA], your comment was pretty much correct. The submitter was the only one who claimed it was the first discovery, period; the actual article only claimed it was the first discovery by Einstein@Home. Please take all of that massive guilt you now have and redirect towards the usual guilty parties, timothy and any submitter of an article he publishes... sigh.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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