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Mining For Cryptocurrency Is Interfering With The Search For Alien Life

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Researchers are struggling to get the right computing power due to cryptocurrency mining. The lack of power is hindering further research into alien life.  ( Jack Guez | AFP/Getty Images )

Cryptocurrency is now having an adverse effect on the search for extraterrestrial life. Drain on graphic processing units has frustrated scientists who need to power computers searching for alien life. Both processes require a lot of computing power and they are being pitted against each other.

Demand for the GPUs are also causing prices to rise and numbers to dwindle, making them hard to find.

GPU Shortage

Cryptocurrency mining uses computers to solve mathematical equations as a way of validating transactions on the blockchain. Solving the equations gives the miners payment in the cryptocurrency that they are mining. This financial incentive is driving miners to buy up as many GPUs as possible to get more power to solve more equations and get more money.

Searching for alien life in space also takes a lot of computing power. Search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) scientists are getting frustrated by their inability to find GPUs. The institute is currently trying to increase the power at two observatories in Green Bank, West Virginia and Parkes, Australia.

"We've got the money, we've contacted the vendors, and they say, 'we just don't have them'," said Dr. Dan Werthimer, chief scientist at Berkeley SETI Research Center to the BBC.

Other astronomers are also having a hard time securing GPUs. The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array in South Africa, which received a grant from the National Science Foundation, soon found out that the price of GPUs had doubled.

HERA's mission is to look for the earliest stars. Like SETI, it's listening to radio waves from distant parts of space.

Bitcoin Boom

In late 2017, cryptocurrency prices began taking off. Prices reached as much as $20,000 for Bitcoin. Rising tide lifts all boats as other cryptocurrencies benefited from this boom. Ethereum rose along with Bitcoin. Just like Bitcoin, it could be mined.

This demand to increase mining profits led to a rise in the prices of GPUs, and shortages of the product. There isn't any guarantee that mining will be profitable but people are trying to make it work. Factors like electricity usage factor into how much people can make while mining cryptocurrency. Volatile prices can also affect profitability.

Over the last couple of months, cryptocurrency prices have fallen off the cliff. Bitcoin prices have halved from its peak at $20,000. Experts are warning that many other cryptocurrencies can see prices down to $0. Uncertainty can make starting a mining operation a gamble, from rising GPU prices to volatile cryptocurrency prices.

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