Largest Known Prime Number Discovered With Over 23 Million Digits
A collaborative computational effort has uncovered the longest known prime number.
At over 23 million digits long, the new number has been given the name M77232917 for short.
Prime numbers are divisible only by themselves and one, and the search for ever-larger primes has long occupied maths enthusiasts.
However, the search requires complicated computer software and collaboration as the numbers get increasingly hard to find.
M77232917 was discovered on a computer belonging to Jonathan Pace, an electrical engineer from Tennessee who has been searching for big primes for 14 years.
Mr Pace discovered the new number as part of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), a project started in 1996 to hunt for these massive numbers.
Mersenne primes – named after the 17th century French monk Marin Mersenne who studied them – are calculated by multiplying together many twos and then subtracting one.
Six days of non-stop computing in which 77,232,917 twos were multiplied together resulted in the latest discovery.
The number is the 50th Mersenne prime to be discovered, and the 16th to be discovered by the GIMPS project.
It is nearly one million digits longer than the previous record holder, which was identified as part of the same project at the beginning of 2016.
Mersenne primes are a particular focus for prime aficionados because there is a relatively straightforward way to check whether a number is one or not.
Nevertheless, the new prime has to be verified using four different computer programs on four different computers.
The process also relies on thousands of volunteers sifting through millions of non-prime candidates before the lucky individual chances upon their target.
Professor Caldwell runs an authoritative website on the largest prime numbers, with a focus on the history of Mersenne primes.
He emphasised the pure excitement that searching for prime numbers brings, describing the latest discovery as “a museum piece as opposed to something that industry would use”.
Besides the thrill of discovery, Mr Pace will receive a $3,000 (£2,211) GIMPS research discovery award.
GIMPS uses the power of thousands of ordinary computers to search for elusive primes, and the team behind it state that anybody with a reasonably powerful PC can download the necessary software and become a “big prime hunter”.
The next Mersenne prime discovery could be smaller or larger than the existing record holder, but the big target for the GIMPS team is to find a 100 million digit prime number.
The person who discovers such a number will be awarded $150,000 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their efforts.
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