Milky Way Map Produced by Home Computers

Tens of thousands are involved in the project

By on February 11th, 2010 20:01 GMT
Scientists are currently using tens of thousands of home computers, desktops and laptops, to produce one of the most fundamental descriptions of our galaxy. Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute want to create a map of the Milky Way, and have turned to common computer users for their help. Each of the participants, from Australia to Africa, are donating some of their computer's processing power to the endeavor, in hopes of contributing as much as they can to furthering our knowledge of our home among the stars. Thus far, the collected power has exceeded one petaflop.

This is just as much as the world's second most powerful supercomputer, and more participants would create even more capabilities. Such large-scale processing is required in order for the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) platform to be able to conduct the necessary simulations that would determine in the end the structure of the Milky Way. The new project is housed on the same infrastructure as the SETI@home project, and is called MilkyWay@Home, ScienceDaily reports.

Though not even scientists thought this possible, the computer collaboration is now the second fastest using a public platform, just behind the famous Folding@home. Even the SETI initiative, which plans to analyze signals coming from outer space in search of extraterrestrial life, has not gained this much popularity, and is currently lagging behind in the third place. This type of investigation works by attributing a very small portion of the galaxy to each individual machine. The computer, depending on how much of its processing power its user has alloted to the experiment, then analyzes the shape, density, and movement of this particular area, and then relays this data back for centralization.

“I was a researcher sitting in my office with a very big computational problem to solve and very little personal computational power or time at my fingertips. Working with the MilkyWay@Home platform, I now have the opportunity to use a massive computational resource that I simply could not have as a single faculty researcher, working on a single research problem,” RPI Associate Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy Heidi Newberg says. She is the one who initiated this project, after learning that simulating even the jets emitted by a star would take forever.