The highest prime number to be seen by humans has been discovered by researchers using a computer in Missouri.
What’s in a number, you might ask. They are never-ending, much of a headache, and absolutely undesirable to deal with when combined in algebra and other complicated mathematics chapters at school, unless you’re a mathematics nerd! Well, in that case, good news! The largest prime number ever to be spotted by us has been ‘discovered’.
Calculated by a computer in Missouri, it consists of around 22 million digits: two to the power of 74,207,281 minus 1. The last one to be discovered was only 5-million-digit long; mathematician Curtis Cooper (who is also behind the recent work) from the University of Central Missouri was awarded US$ 100,000 for its discovery 3 years ago. Of course, there is no such thing as the highest prime number per say. But, finding them – calculating them – makes of it a challenging feat.
Prime numbers, as you might know if you followed the maths class instead of fooling around, are pure by nature such that they are divisible by one and by themselves only. Another aspect of them that makes them stand out is their use to create amazing patterns such as the Ulam spiral, and they can also be found in nature. Furthermore, they have inspired artists to create music. They also have their special place in modern science: for computer power testing.
The newest one to be found is part of the Mersenne primes, a rare group whereby it is written as one less than a power of two (as this one is written “two to the power of 74,207,281 minus one”. We know only 49 of them.
Finding Mersenne primes helps to test computer hardware; researchers have discovered flaws and hardware problems using this method before.