Processing scientific data requires enormous power, but the number of supercomputers available is very limited. However, a significant part of the calculations can be broken down into small tasks that a home computer can handle. The BOINC project is a complex of programs designed to organize distributed computing. It was originally created in 2002 for the SETI @ Home project, which analyzes radio signals from the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Civilizations) program, but later the University of California at Berkeley opened the platform for other research. At the moment, the power of BOINC is used to solve problems in the field of astrophysics, mathematics, molecular biology, climatology and in some other areas.
The main idea of the project is that ordinary personal computer users can allocate some of their computing resources to help various research projects. You install the BOINC client on your PC (there are versions for all common operating systems), select the project or group of projects you are interested in, the program downloads the task package and starts calculations.
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Calculations can be performed while the computer is idle, then the software will run in screensaver mode, or on an ongoing basis, consuming the number of resources you allow. The operating mode is configured quite flexibly, and calculations can be carried out both on the central processor and using a video card. When the task is solved, the data is sent to the servers of the selected project and a new task is requested.
Due to the fact that after sending the solution, the project server awards the participant a certain number of points, many volunteers unite in groups and compete with each other. At the moment, BOINC unites more than 300 thousand volunteers from all over the world, which gives a total average performance of over 23 petaflops. For comparison, the three most powerful supercomputers in the world produce 93, 34 and 20 petaflops.
There is even a cryptocurrency Gridcoin, aimed purely at scientific computing through BOINC: the more actively you participate in the project, the more coins you get. Although the rate of this cryptocurrency is not very high, but at least the idea looks much more sensible than spending huge computing power on heating the surrounding space, as happens with Bitcoin and its alternatives. You can join BOINC by downloading the client by This link and below is a brief overview of some of the research in astronomy and astrophysics that you may want to participate in.
Popular BOINC Projects
Cosmology @ Home from the University of Illinois analyzes a variety of cosmological data sets, such as CMB information from the Planck Space Observatory. The main goal of the project is to find a model of the Universe that is in the best agreement with astronomical observations and modern theories of elementary particle physics. To work on a project, you will need a BOINC + Virtualbox bundle, as well as a processor with VT-x or AMD-v hardware virtualization support.
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The Einstein @ Home project is sponsored by Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Germany) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) and the. One of the main directions is the search for low-frequency gravitational waves from rotating neutron stars by analyzing data from the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors, the Fermi space gamma-ray telescope and the Arecibo radio telescope. Also, within the framework of the project, tasks are available to search for gamma pulsars, which are performed using a video card. No additional software is required to operate Einstein @ Home.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute supports the MilkyWay @ Home project, which aims to build an accurate 3D model of our Milky Way galaxy. Data for analysis comes from the SDSS (Sloan Digital Sky Survey) program, which started back in 2000. When viewing the sky, Google Earth tries to take data from SDSS if it is available for a given region. The project is also working on research in the field of informatics, in particular, various methods of optimizing distributed computing algorithms are being studied.
SETI @ home, the first and perhaps the most famous BOINC project is overseen by the University of Berkeley and is looking for intelligent life outside of Earth. Your computer will analyze the narrow-band (1200-3000 MHz) radio signals from space collected by the Allen radio telescope system of 42 antennas as part of the SETI program.
Despite the high popularity of the project, it is regularly criticized for the insufficient, in the opinion of some scientists, thoughtfulness of the search method. It is worth noting that the search for extraterrestrial civilizations is one of the points of the research program of such a serious and extremely expensive NASA project as the James Webb Space Telescope.