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Scientists reverse-engineered the Luna flash crash using particle physics

  • Over $40 billion in investor assets were lost in the Luna flash crash between May 5 and May 13, 2022.
  • Do Kwon, co-founder of Terra, was later arrested for his involvement in criminal activity related to the crash.
  • Scientists at King’s College London have applied statistical mechanics to study the crash, using techniques similar to those used in particle physics research.
  • By viewing transaction events and orders as particles, the researchers were able to gain insights into the microstructure of Luna and the underlying causes of the crash.
  • The team discovered instances of spoofing and layering in the Luna market, which significantly contributed to the crash.
  • An algorithm was developed to detect spoofing and layering, using synthetic data as there were no accurately labeled instances available.
  • The researchers’ method successfully detected spoofing events, while the traditional Z-score method failed to identify them accurately.
  • This research could serve as a foundation for studying market microstructure in finance.

More than $40 billion in investor assets were lost in the crash between May 5 and May 13, 2022. Less than a year later, Do Kwon was arrested after allegedly attempting to flee prosecution for criminal activity associated with the losses.

Volumes have since been written discussing the breakdown, which saw the Luna (LUNC) coin plummet and Terra’s UST stablecoin depeg from the U.S. dollar.

Now, for what appears to be the first time, scientists have applied statistical mechanics to essentially reverse-engineer the crash using the same techniques used to study particle physics.

The research, conducted at King’s College London, concentrated on transaction events and orders occurring during the crash. Per the team’s preprint research paper:

“We view the orders as physical particles with motion on a 1-dimensional axis. The order size corresponds to the particle mass, and the distance the order has moved corresponds to the distance the particle moves.”

These same techniques are used to map thermodynamic interactions, molecular dynamics, and atomic-level interactions. By applying them to individual events occurring during a specific period of time in a contained ecosystem, such as the Luna market, the researchers were able to glean deeper insight into the coin’s microstructure and the underlying causes for the collapse.

The process involved moving away from the snapshot methodology involved in the current state-of-the-art approach, Z-score-based anomaly detection, and moving into a granular view of events as they occurred.

By viewing events as particles, the team was able to incorporate layer-3 data into its analysis (which, above layer-1 and layer-2 data, includes data pertaining to order submissions, cancellations, and matches).

According to the researchers, this led them to uncover “widespread instances of spoofing and layering in the market,” which greatly contributed to the Luna flash crash.

The team then developed an algorithm to detect layering and spoofing. This presented a significant challenge, according to the paper, as there are no known data sets related to the Luna crash that contain accurately labeled instances of spoofing or layering.

In order to train their model to recognize these activities without such data, the researchers created synthetic data. Once trained, the model was then applied to the Luna data set and benchmarked against an existing analysis conducted via the Z-score system.

“Our method successfully detected spoofing events in the original dataset of LUNA trading market,” wrote the researchers, before noting that the Z-score method “not only failed to identify spoofing but also incorrectly flagged large limit orders as spoofing.”

Going forward, the researchers believe their work could serve as a foundation for studying market microstructure across finance.

The Luna flash crash happened just eight days after Terra co-founder Do Kwon told American-Canadian chess star Alexandra Botez that 95% of crypto coins would fail, adding that there was “entertainment in watching companies die.”

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