Cryptocurrency Miners are slowing down our Search for Aliens.

It might interest you to know that everyday thousands of volunteers turn the power of their computers over to the SETI home project in hopes of finding aliens among the stars. SETI which stands for “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence at Home”—is an experiment organized by UC-Berkeley that uses people’s computers to increase the project’s processing power and analyze more radio signals from outer space.

The project has its own computing installations at several telescopes. Recently the project ran into problems when it tried to expand its operations by adding the latest and most powerful computers to two observatories. They discovered,, that it couldn’t find the key computer component it needed: graphics processing units (GPUs).

The reason is not far fetched. Thanks to cryptocurrency miners. The same cards that make PC games look amazing and can crunch alien radio signal data can also “mine” (or generate) digital coins like Ethereum and Zcash, so cryptocurrency miners are buying them in bulk and leaving few behind for anyone else.Of course searching the stars is intense work that “uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space.” Analyzing all of the data from these telescopes uses a lot of computing power. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs and we can't get 'em," Dan Werthimer, chief scientist of SETI, said. “That's limiting our search for extraterrestrials”. 

The situation has gotten so serious that manufacturers like Nvidia are struggling to keep up with demand for graphics cards. It recently told investors it would rise to meet its manufacturing challenge while focusing on its core marketgamers. It even suggested vendors limit purchases of graphics cards from individual buyers in an effort to stop miners from buying up all the cards. So next time you are checking your bitcoin wallet, just know that you might actually be slowing down our search for alien life. 

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