A new distributed computing project allows people around the world to participate in cutting-edge cosmology research by sharing their unused computing cycles.

Designed by an astronomy professor, Cosmology@Home is similar to SETI@Home, the popular software program that searches radio telescope data for evidence of extraterrestrial transmissions.

"When you run Cosmology@Home on your computer, it uses part of the computer's processing power, disk space and network bandwidth," said project leader Benjamin D. Wandelt, who teaches astronomy and physics at the University of Illinois. "Our goal is to search for cosmological models that describe our universe and agree with available astronomical and particle physics data."

To accomplish this, participating computers will calculate predictions made by millions of theoretical models with different parameters. The predictions are then compared with data, which include fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, large-scale distributions of galaxies and the universe?s acceleration.

Cosmology@Home could also help design future cosmological observations and prepare for the analysis of future data sets, such as those to be collected by the Planck spacecraft, Wandelt said.

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