$$$$

*Note, that here, the $\hat L_n$ are operators on the state given by the sums of the dots of the mode operators, i.e. $\hat L_0=\sum_{k=-\infty}^\infty\hat\alpha_{-n}\cdot\hat\alpha_n$.*

Also note that The Virasoro Algebra is the central extension of the Witt/Conformal Algebra so that explains why we have a $D$, it is equivalent to the central charge.

I'll expand on Chris Gerig's answer.

Not only do we need $D=26$, we also need the normal ordering constant $a=1$. The normal ordering constant is the eigenvalue of $\hat L_0$ with the eigenvector the state.

We want to promote the time-like states to spurious, zero-norm states, right? So, we impose the (level 1) spurious state conditions on the state as ffollows ($|\chi\rangle$ are the basis vectors to build the spurious state $\\Phi\rangle$ on.)$:

$$ \begin{gathered}
0 = {{\hat L}_1}\left| \Phi \right\rangle \\
{\text{ }} = {{\hat L}_1}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle \\
{\text{ }} = \left[ {{{\hat L}_{ - 1}},{{\hat L}_1}} \right]\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle + {{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{{\hat L}_1}\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle \\
{\text{ }} = \left[ {{{\hat L}_{ - 1}},{{\hat L}_1}} \right]\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle \\
{\text{ }} = 2{{\hat L}_0}\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle \\
{\text{ }} = 2{c_0}\left( {a - 1} \right)\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle \\
\end{gathered} $$

That means that $a=1$.

Now, for a level 2 spurious state,

$$\begin{gathered}
\left[ {{{\hat L}_1},{{\hat L}_{ - 2}} + k{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}} \right]\left| \psi \right\rangle = \left( {3{{\hat L}_{ - 1}} + 2k{{\hat L}_0}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}} + 2k{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{{\hat L}_0}} \right)\left| \psi \right\rangle {\text{ }} \\
{\text{ }} = \left( {3 - 2k} \right){{\hat L}_{ - 1}} + 4k{{\hat L}_0}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{\text{ }}\left( {3 - 2k} \right){{\hat L}_{ - 1}} + 4k{{\hat L}_0}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{\text{ }} \\
0 = {{\hat L}_1}\left| \psi \right\rangle = {{\hat L}_1}\left( {{{\hat L}_{ - 2}} + k{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}} \right)\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle = \left( {\left( {3 - 2k} \right){{\hat L}_{ - 1}} + 4k{{\hat L}_0}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}} \right)\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle \\
{\text{ }} = \left( {\left( {3 - 2k} \right){{\hat L}_{ - 1}} + 4k{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}\left( {{{\hat L}_0} + 1} \right)} \right)\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle \\
{\text{ }} = \left( {3 - 2k} \right){{\hat L}_{ - 1}}\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle \\
2k = 3 \\
k = \frac{3}{2} \\
\end{gathered} $$

Since this level 2 spurious state can be written as:

$$ {\left| \Phi \right\rangle = {{\hat L}_{ - 2}}\left| {{\chi _1}} \right\rangle + k{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}\left| {{\chi _2}} \right\rangle }$$ ##

So, then,

$$ \begin{gathered}
{{\hat L}_2}\left| \Phi \right\rangle = 0 \\
{{\hat L}_2}\left( {{{\hat L}_{ - 2}} + \frac{3}{2}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}} \right)\left| {{\chi _2}} \right\rangle = 0 \\
\left[ {{{\hat L}_2},{{\hat L}_{ - 2}} + \frac{3}{2}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}} \right]\left| {{\chi _2}} \right\rangle + \left( {{{\hat L}_{ - 2}} + \frac{3}{2}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}} \right){{\hat L}_2}\left| {{\chi _2}} \right\rangle = 0 \\
\left[ {{{\hat L}_2},{{\hat L}_{ - 2}} + \frac{3}{2}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}} \right]\left| {{\chi _2}} \right\rangle = 0 \\
\left( {13{{\hat L}_0} + 9{{\hat L}_{ - 1}}{{\hat L}_{ - 1}} + \frac{D}{2}} \right)\left| {{\chi _2}} \right\rangle = 0 \\
\frac{D}{2} = 13 \\
D = 26 \\
\end{gathered} $$ \

And then, finally,

Q.E.D.

So, this was done essentially to remove the imaginary norm ghost states and using the Canonical / Gupta - Bleuer formalism.

It's also possible to use , say, e.g. Light Cone Gauge (LCG) quantisation. However, in other quantisation methods, the conformal anomaly is manifest in other forms. E.g., in LCG quantisationn, it is manifest as a failure of lorentz symmetry. A good overview of this method can be found in **Kaku** *Strings, Conformal fields, and M-theory* (it's the only part of the book that I liked, actually. The rest of the book is too rigorous, without much physical intuition.).

infinite familiesof finite groups. (Then there's the Tits group, which is not quite of linear type but is not usually counted among the sporadics either...) – Noam D. Elkies Jun 15 '12 at 1:11