13 new gamma-ray pulsars have been discovered by the citizen science project Einstein@Home.
Einstein@Home borrows computer power from thousands of volunteers in order to analyze data sets coming from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. The project has investigated 118 potential pulsar sources and has been able to assert the direct nature of 17 of such items. 13 of these pulsars are entirely new discoveries that are relatively young (12,000 years old and 2 million years old), and two of the recent finds are the slowest spinning gamma ray pulsars ever discovered.
The findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal, along with praise for volunteers that lent processing power to the study. If not for the contributed effort, it could have taken as long as 10,000 years to process this vast amount of data:
“We discovered so many new pulsars for three main reasons: the huge computing power provided by Einstein@Home; our invention of novel and more efficient search methods; and the use of newly-improved Fermi-LAT data. These together provided unprecedented sensitivity for our large survey of more than 100 Fermi catalog sources.”
– Dr Colin Clark, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics
Pulsars are formed after supernovae explosion. A pulsar is a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation. This radiation can be observed only when the beam of emission is pointing toward Earth (much the way a lighthouse can be seen only when the light is pointed in the direction of an observer). This makes Gamma Ray pulsars extremely hard to find.
The Fermi data contains tens of thousands of sources of radio waves. Einstein@Home decided to focus on 118 of the most promising signals for this study.
“We knew that there had to be several unidentified pulsars in the Fermi data, but it’s always very exciting to actually detect one of them and at the same time it’s very satisfying to understand what its properties are,”