When Einstein published his Theory of General Relativity in 1916, he predicted the existence of gravitational waves, or ripples in the fabric of space-time created by cosmic events such as supernova explosions or colliding black holes. The technology needed to detect gravitational waves, however, has only recently been developed. In 1999 construction was completed on the US Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), a $300 million project funded by the National Science Foundation, that consists of two facilities located in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, that are designed to detect cosmic gravitational waves. The observational datasets generated by these facilities are so huge that Dr. Bruce Allen, Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and a former Ph.D. student of Stephen Hawking, has created the Einstein@home distributed computing project. The project will allow private computer users to search LIGO datasets for evidence of gravitational waves. Modeled on the SETI@home project, computer users download a screensaver program that crunches LIGO data while they are away from their computer. The project will search datasets from both US LIGO observatories as well as the UK-German-led GEO 600 observatory located in Hanover, Germany. The project began with 6,000 users when it launched on February 19th and within two weeks was adding users at a rate of about 1,000 per day. Einstein@home is supported by the American Physical Society as part of the World Year of Physics 2005 celebration.
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