PC screensaver leads to discovery of new star

Astronomers discovered a possible magnetar that emitted 40 visible-light flashes before disappearing again. (ESO/L.Calçada)

Astronomers have announced the discovery of a new star, found with help from a most unusual source — a screen saver.

Chris and Helen Colvin, owners of the personal computer running the screen saver are participants in a project called Einstein@home, an experiment in distributed computing that uses the donated idle time from hundreds of thousands of home computers across the globe in lieu of more expensive supercomputers.

The June 11 discovery of the pulsar — a dense, rotating star that appears to pulse like a lighthouse beacon — was confirmed on June 14 by another user’s computer in Germany. It marks the first time an astronomical body has been discovered this way.

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