A network of hundreds of thousands of home computer users recently discovered a rare celestial object by donating their computers' downtime to a worthy cause.

The object is called a disrupted binary pulsar and is unique due to its relatively low magnetic field, according to a BBC report. The discovery was made by three computers (two in the United States and one in Germany) participating in the [email protected] distributed computing project. [email protected] harnesses a user's spare or unused computer processing cycles to compute raw data pulled from gravitational wave detectors. To participate all you have to do is run a screensaver that uses your computer's downtime.

The project is attempting to prove Einstein's theory that when celestial events such as exploding stars or colliding black holes occur, they create waves that alter space and time.

[email protected] is based on the BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) platform that hosts a variety of distributed computing projects. By volunteering your computer's downtime to distributed computing projects you can help fight cancer, monitor seismic activity, scan the stars for alien life or even crack encrypted Nazi messages.

If you'd like to spice up your screensaver and donate your time to an interesting cause, all you have to do is download BOINC's software and specify the project you'd like to join. Here are five distributed computing projects for you to consider.

Alien Hunters

Help UC Berkeley's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project as it scans the universe for intelligent life. [email protected] is the original BOINC project that has been ongoing for nearly eleven years. [email protected] participants will help process data from radio telescopes searching for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. These signals are not known to occur naturally, so their detection could indicate the presence of intelligent life.

Seti@Home

Some of [email protected]'s computing equipment.

If that sounds like fun, why not join close to 200,000 others who are searching for Vulcans, Wookies, and Martians? But make sure you only install [email protected] only on computers you own. In late 2009, a an Arizona school district fired its IT director when the board discovered the director had installed [email protected] software on the school district's computers.

Earthquake Detector

The Quake-Catcher Network uses accelerometers found in laptops to create an early detection system for earthquakes around the globe. To participate you need a Mac laptop from 2006 or later, an IBM or Lenovo ThinkPad laptop from 2003 or later, or a desktop computer with a USB sensor (you can buy one from QCN).

You can also use QCN software to donate your spare computer cycles to QCN's interactive educational software. Check out QCN's Google Map to see recent seismic activity the network has detected. QCN was launched in 2008 and is only available for Windows and Mac users.

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