A Cosmic Dance from Einstein@Home

Editor’s note: AAS Nova is on vacation until 2 November. Normal posting will resume at that time; in the meantime, we’ll be taking this opportunity to look at a few interesting AAS journal articles that have recently been in the news or drawn attention.

What’s your computer doing when you’re not using it? It could be discovering hidden, record-breaking pulsars, like in the case of PSR J1653−0158, recently found via the Einstein@Home project.

Einstein@Home is a distributed computing project that uses idle computer hours from volunteers to speed up computationally expensive searches for signatures of pulsing neutron stars — pulsars — in large datasets from observatories like the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors, large radio telescopes, and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. The donated hours can shorten hunts from what would normally take centuries on a single computer to just a couple weeks.

In a new study led by Lars Nieder (Albert Einstein Institute, Germany), scientists announced the Einstein@Home project’s latest discovery: a gamma-ray-bright but radio-invisible pulsar in an orbit with an extremely low-mass star. Such a system is called a “black widow pulsar” — because the pulsar is destroying its companion! — and this one sets a number of records for these systems: it has the fastest orbital period (75 minutes), and the pulsar is unusually massive and has one of the fastest spins and weakest surface magnetic fields of known pulsars.

You can read more about the discovery, and about Einstein@Home, in the original article and the press release below.

Original article: “Discovery of a Gamma-Ray Black Widow Pulsar by GPU-accelerated Einstein@Home,” L. Nieder et al 2020 ApJL 902 L46. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/abbc02
Albert Einstein Institute press release: Super heavyweight and flyweight in a cosmic dance


Illustration of the binary star system with the pulsar J1653-0158 (bottom) in comparison to the Earth-Moon system (top). The pulsar is magnified by 450x, but all other sizes and distances are to scale. [Knispel/Clark/Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics/NASA]