This is a hashtag, but not just any hashtag. In all likelihood, it’s the longest and most confusing one you’ll ever come across trending in the crypto community.
Posted on June 19 by Mark Wilcox, the hashtag actually represents a cryptographic code known as a hash that’s produced each time new transactions are validated and written onto the bitcoin blockchain. There are several of these written each day, so at first glance, it seems strange that this particular one produced on Tuesday at 19:32:37 (UTC) would be of any groundbreaking importance.
That’s where you’d be wrong.
Well, actually, that’s where you might be wrong.
Some background: There is a theory in physics that attempts to explain the interactions and dynamics of all forces, including gravity, in the universe with one simple mathematical structure known as the E8. Presented in a paper titled, “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything” by Garrett Lisi in 2007, it still remains unproven.
Couple the unsolved status of the E8 theory with the equally unsolved mystery of the exact identity of the person(s) who brought bitcoin – with its supply cap of 21 million coins – into existence, and you get the hypothesis that “21e800” isn’t just some random string of numbers and value. In fact, the theory seems to suggest, it is a “vanity hash” purposefully placed by the creator of bitcoin himself/herself/themselves, Satoshi Nakamoto.
Starting to get goosebumps yet?
If this hash is indeed a “vanity hash” or, in other words, one deliberately created as some kind of sign, the computing power to create it is not only magnitudes greater than is currently capable by the average computer, but the time needed to create it is somewhat jaw-dropping, as shown in a chart posted by developer Andrew DeSantis.
So for all these reasons and a few more (which we’ll get to shortly), several people on Twitter are raving about the sheer impossibility of the existence of this hash, if indeed it was created and purposefully marked by an unknown person(s).
Hold your horses
But before we go jumping to any more wild conclusions, it is important to note the possibility that perhaps this string of characters is just random and simply the output of an ordinary hash function – not engineered by a hidden mastermind.
As Cornell University professor and blockchain researcher Emin Gün Sirer explains, the string of characters “21e8” isn’t all that “magical” and actually occurs about once a year.
To this point, many others have also refuted the idea of a “vanity hash” entirely. Instead, they see the more likely idea being that “21e8” isn’t anything special and might even be a complete hoax.
What’s keeping the magic alive?
What’s clear from the day’s social chatter is that the mystery behind this hash value is closely linked to the mystique – and fascination – with Satoshi Nakamoto and the creation story of bitcoin itself.
Indeed, a post on the Bitcoin Talk forum highlights how today’s viral mystery is actually a rather old one.
Begun back in 2013, a post dubbed “A mistery[sic] hidden in the Genesis Block” on bitcointalk.org questions the creation of the first verified transaction using bitcoin.
As you may have heard, mining, the activity that verifies or “unlocks” blocks on the blockchain to write in new transactions is getting progressively harder. However, back in bitcoin’s early days, the computing power required to process a block was comparatively lower – and at the same time, the computing processors in use weren’t as powerful as today’s power-hungry ASICs.
To put things in perspective, from unlocking Block 0, the genesis block, to Block 1, the approximate time to transpire was 6 days.
But according to calculations that have to do with the size of nonces – which are basically the additional data values added by miners to the hash function in order to get the appropriate hash value validating the next block – the approximate time to unlock Block 0 was only 4.2 minutes.
How is that possible?
Alas, that mystery persists. Perhaps, as in the words of @nondualrandy, these are all a series of “easter eggs” strategically planted to keep the magic behind bitcoin alive.
Galaxy image via Shutterstock