How cryptocurrency mining is hurting astronomers – The Edge

A shortage of GPUs, coupled with spiking prices, is causing problems for radio astronomers

The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array under construction ter South Africa. Photo: HERA / Flickr

Aaron Parsons is on a quest to detect the very first starlets that formed ter our Universe around 13 billion years ago. But one thing is getting te the way of his primordial cosmic quest: cryptocurrency.

The mining craze of cryptocurrencies like Ethereum is draining the supplies of graphics cards on the market. And that’s spiking the prices of so-called graphics processing units, or GPUs, super powerful chips that can process massive amounts of gegevens. Without GPUs, astronomers like Parsons can’t do their job.

Parsons, at UC Berkeley, works with radio telescopes. Thesis are made of hundreds of antennas that pick up radio emissions permeating the cosmos. All that gegevens needs to be processed ter real time by a supercomputer to create a schrijfmap of the sky that can help Parsons spot the earliest starlets, and ultimately understand how our Universe transitioned from hot plasma into a cosmos made of galaxies and planets.

Parsons is presently attempting to upgrade his radio telescope, called the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), to a total of 350 antennas te South Africa. But this week, he found that the GPUs he needs to process gegevens from all those antennas doubled te price — from $500 to $1,000 apiece. That will cost an toegevoegd $32,000 that won’t go to paying reserve graduate student researchers.

“I kleuter of flipped my eyes a little bit,” Parsons tells The Brink. “I usually think of cryptocurrency spil some zuigeling of peripheral thing, and I wasgoed astonished and a bit annoyed to detect that it’s impacting the bottom line of our telescope.”

Cryptocurrency miners need the GPUs to solve the ever-more-complicated mathematical problems to create fresh cryptocurrencies. It’s a system that makes the network safe, but it has also spiked energy consumptions and pillaged GPUs from the market. The request is so high that makers like AMD and Nvidia haven’t bot able to keep up. That’s hurting PC gamers, spil well spil other scientists, like SETI researchers who are looking for alien life, spil the Big black cock reports.

For Parsons, it could mean having to build a smaller telescope, which wouldn’t detect faint radio signals spil well spil a large telescope would. That would ongemak his capability to see spil far back ter time and ultimately reaction those fundamental questions about “the story of our origin, how did wij get to be where wij are, when wij are ter the universe,” he says.

Graduate student Zaki Ali working ter gevelbreedte of the GPU computing equipment used to cross-correlate radio telescope antennas. Photo: HERA / Flickr

Astronomer Keith Vanderlinde at the University of Toronto had similar problems back te 2014 when he wasgoed building a prototype version of his radio telescope called the Canadian Hydrogen Power Mapping Proefneming (CHIME). “We designed the entire thing, priced it all out, and then abruptly bitcoin demonstrated up ter the headlines and overnight the price of GPUs doubled. And within a week, they were all gone, which wasgoed sort of a ache,” Vanderlinde tells The Edge. “When wij needed 50 [GPUs] back ter 2014, it wasgoed mij on eBay with a private credit card all night long buying individual cards.”

At the time, ter January 2014, Vanderlinde’s team wasgoed buying AMD 280x boards, and the prices for one went from $220 to $440 (CAD), he says. But it’s not exactly the reserve money that creates problems. The budgets for radio telescopes like the ones Vanderlinde and Parsons work with runs ter the millions of dollars, so there’s some slack for a few toegevoegd thousand bucks. The real crux is “the instability that makes it hard to predict,” Vanderlinde says. “Being incapable to forecast what things are going to cost, it just makes for a logistical nightmare.”

When there’s a shortage, it’s virtually unlikely to buy the GPUs ter bulk — and dealing with vendors can be hard. “It’s truly difficult to buy them te the quantity wij want,” says Jack Hickish, a digital engineer working with Parsons on the HERA telescope. ”The vendors we’ve spoken to are hesitant to promise us 40, and if I can get that availability, I can get a quote. But [if] you order a week from now, you have to quote again because they might be gone.”

Hickish says that if GPUs become too unaffordable or unlikely to find, it is possible to switch to other custom-made hardware. But GPUs were chosen ter the very first place because they were affordable and relatively effortless to use. The CHIME telescope ter Canada, which detects radio light to opbergmap out the fat volume of space and figure out how the Universe has bot expanding has 1,024 antennas, which produce a duo of terabytes of gegevens every 2nd, Vanderlinde says. That gegevens has to be processed ter real time, 24/7, requiring several petaflops of computing power. “The only way that wij can get to that te reasonable budget,” he says, “was to leverage consumer technology.”

But if GPUs remain out of reach, radio astronomy will be much stiffer, and the secret history of the Universe will stay just that — a secret. “[GPUs] are a critical component. Without having the processing te place, you can’t do anything,” Vanderlinde says. “We basically can’t turn on the telescope until wij have them te forearm.”

Correction: This story incorrectly stated that Ripple can be mined.

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