- Ethereum was first being developed in 2015 by Vitalik Buterin and Gavin Wood, they wrote down a piece of code into the Ethereum codebase.
- Ethereum’s difficulty bomb keeps the hashing rate constant to a value where the hashing complexity is increased with every 100,000 blocks mined.
- The Muir Glacier hard fork was pushed to the network, which delays the ice age for another 4 million blocks or nearly 611 days.
When the second most popular cryptocurrency, Ethereum was first being developed in 2015 by Vitalik Buterin and Gavin Wood, they wrote down a piece of code into the Ethereum codebase.
It was a bit of code designed to gradually increase the mining difficulty by increasing the complexity of the hashing function until it became complex to the point where ether could no longer mine.
The miners would be forced to shift to a complete proof-of-stake (POW) system from Ethereum’s initial proof-of-work (POW) system. This bit of code came to be popularly known as the Ethereum difficulty bomb, or the Ethereum ice age.
Unlike Bitcoin where the block mining time is managed by the Bitcoin protocol to be 10 minutes, Ethereum’s difficulty bomb keeps the hashing rate constant to a value where the hashing complexity is increased with every 100,000 blocks mined.
The difficulty bomb began ticking when block 200,000 was mined and expected to be completed by 1 January 2020. But on 2 January 2020, as the 9,200,000th block mined, the Muir Glacier hard fork was pushed to the network, which delays the ice age for another 4 million blocks or nearly 611 days.
This would mark the third time the difficulty bomb fuse has been postponed, for the first time during the Byzantium hard fork by 3 million blocks in 2018, and for the second time in the Constantinople hard fork by another 2 million blocks in 2019.
The difficulty bomb completely choking the proof of work-based Ethereum 1.0 network was intentionally put into the code to make the transition to Ethereum 2.0 based on proof of work, more seamless and functional for the network.
But it comes into question as the code has delayed from serving its purpose over again, why is it that the Ethereum blockchain has such trouble with its transition into a new network?
Most of it lies in the fact that shift to proof of stake would result in the time on a block on the ethereum blockchain to hit 20-30 seconds from the current 10-20 seconds, which will drastically reduce the number of blocks mined per day.
This will result in the cost of transactions shooting up since the space for transactions on a block will be limited. In a fully-active network, this problem will become even more pronounced and will end up choking the network making transactions costlier and reducing volume on the network.
Therefore, a healthy balance has to be maintained to make sure that the number of miners on the POS chain matches out the number of miners on the POW chain. The goal is to have the mining difficulty increase ever so gradually that all ETH miners forced to shift to POS completely to prevent a hard fork of the blockchain.
Once, the ice age sets in, the majority of miners need to be on the POS chain, and the mining complexity on the POW chain should push the remaining miners into POS.
At this point, the Ethereum 2.0 transition set to take place sometime in 2021 during the Serenity update to the network. The current Muir Glacier update has resulted in the mining difficulty decreasing as the difficulty bomb has delayed.
This resulted in about 25% shorted mining times per block, and this resulted in a slight drop in ETH market value during this period.