Rise in cryptocurrency mining is hindering search for alien life

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Mining cryptos like Bitcoin require miners to solve wickedly complex mathematical puzzles to validate each transaction. The Fermi Paradox, which is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence and high probability estimates for the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations, could also be applied to cryptocurrencies: in this case, the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence of any serious use for most cryptocurrencies versus the value placed in many of them by market speculators.

[Crypto-currency mining] is limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to try to answer the question, 'Are we alone? It has the money, but it just can't get them.

Although GPUs were originally designed for visual tasks such as making PC games look cool, their speed and incredibly processing power led to cryptocurrency miners beginning to hoard them.

"At SETI, we want to look at as many frequency channels as we possibly can because we don't know what frequency ET will be broadcasting on and we want to look for lots of different signal types - is it AM or FM, what communication are they using?" he said.

Seti is now trying to improve its capacity for analysing such data at two observatories - Green Bank in West Virginia and Parkes in Australia.

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GPUs are also essential for researchers looking to process massive amounts of data, such as those scanning radio waves from giant expanses of the universe, looking for an alien signal. 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. Both processes require a lot of computing power and they are being pitted against each other.

According to Professor Parsons - who manages the HERA telescope -, it will be able to weather the storm, but the expansion will end up costing around $32,000 more than initially planned.

It has been created to listen to low frequency radio waves emitted by the reionising hydrogen gas that permeated the universe before the first stars and galaxies formed. Retailers have reportedly had a tough time keeping stock around long enough so that everyone could get their hands on one at a reasonable price.

"It's becoming increasingly hard to find suppliers and cards", he said. This is because GPUs are also used to mine for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and ZCash. Drain on graphic processing units has frustrated scientists who need to power computers searching for alien life.