The [email protected] project, one of dozens of grid computing projects that rely on the CPU cycles of volunteers' home and office computers, is being credited with discovery of a new radio pulsar.

Discovery of the pulsar, also known as a neutron star, was first reported by the journal Science's Science Express online site. The pulsar is in the Milky Way, about 17,000 light years from Earth, and its discovery should help scientists better understand what pulsars are made of and how they form.

It's considered to be the first real astronomical find by a public volunteer distributed computing project, according to Germany's Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, which hosts [email protected] along with the Centre for Gravitation and Cosmology at the University of Wisconsin.

Three citizens, a German and an American couple, discovered the pulsar – officially PSRJ2007+2722 – using data gathered by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.  They are users of the [email protected] project, which borrows spare processing cycles from 250,000 volunteers in nearly 200 countries. The project, which uses the open source BOINC software was launched in an effort to confirm Albert Einstein's 1916 prediction of gravitational waves.

"This is a thrilling moment for [email protected] and our volunteers. It proves that public participation can discover new things in our universe. I hope it inspires more people to join us to help find other secrets hidden in the data," said Bruce Allen, leader of the [email protected] project, in a statement.