With Bitcoin's price skyrocketing before Christmas, and other cryptocurrencies following suit, it seems like everyone and their mum is trying to get in on the market and get rich. That means a lot of people are buying up hardware to mine new coins for themselves, and apparently it's stopping us from being able to listen out for alien messages asking if we want to head to Alpha Centauri for pizza.
SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has plans to expand its operations at two observatories, and the plan is to use the latest computer hardware. The problem is a lot of the key components, particularly graphics processing units, are in short supply. As any PC gamer might know, it's because would be crypto miners are buying them all.
Radio-astronomer Dan Werthimer told the BBC:
"We'd like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]... and we can't get 'em.
That's limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to try to answer the question, 'Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?'
This is a new problem, it's only happened on orders we've been trying to make in the last couple of months."
"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? That takes a lot of computing power."
SETI isn't the only group having problems either. The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (Hera) project, which looks for some of the earliest stars in the universe, recently received a grant to expand its operations only to find out that the price of GPUs had doubled. While the project can afford the price increase, it's going to cost them around $32,000 (£23,039) more than initially expected.
Bitcoin itself is less of an issue these days, thanks to more specialised chipsets, but Ethereum is rising in popularity and miners are able to use consumer hardware to turn a profit.
So while people are trying to generate new ways of keeping the lights on, it is still having far-reaching impacts on things people couldn't have expected. [BBC News]