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Saturday, 20 September 2008 19:30

Thirty-mile long prime number found: Biggest ever

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The Great Internet Marsenne Prime Search (GIMPS) project and American computer manager Edson Smith have teamed up to find a prime number that is almost 13 million digits in length—the largest prime number ever found.


A prime number, sometimes called simply “a prime,” is any natural number that is divisible only by 1 and itself.

For example, the prime number “11” is only divisible by “11” and “1.” An infinite number of prime numbers exist.

The first twelve prime numbers are: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, and 37.

GIMPS (or, Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search) is a volunteer effort that uses free downloadable software from the Internet to search for Mersenne prime numbers.

American computer scientist George F. Woltman founded the organization.

A Mersenne number (Mn) is a positive integer that is one less than a power (n) of two, or:

Mn = 2n -1.

And, now, for the "Big" news.

See the largest prime number ever found on page two.




Found by GIMPS software, the largest prime number is now: 243,112,609-1, where n = 43,112,609.

According to reports on this new "largest" prime number, if someone would print out the new prime number in 12-point type, it would take a piece of paper that was 30 miles (50 kilometers) long.

A sample of the number is found at the website “243112609-1 is prime ” of American cryptologist Landon Curt Noll.

Noll, one of the judges of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) prize for the prime number stated, “The award is an incentive to stretch the computational ability of the Internet,” [Science News (subscription required): “The largest prime number found”]

Computing resource manager Edson Smith, of the Department of Mathematics’ Program in Computing (PIC), at the University of California, Los Angeles, directed the 75 computers within his computer laboratory that found the largest prime number.

Smith downloaded the GIMPS software and searched for the prime number when his computers were not busy with other university projects

GIMPS and Smith are eligible to a big prize for the discovery. Please read page three to find out how much money they will receive.




Members of the GIMPS project are now eligible to be awarded the $100,000 prize from EFF for finding a prime number over 10 million digits in length.

According to Scientific American, “Under a prize-sharing agreement implemented by GIMPS, Smith or his institution would receive half the prize, with $25,000 going to charity, $5,000 going to GIMPS to cover expenses, and the balance going to past GIMPS volunteers who discovered lesser primes.” [Scientific American: “Big and bigger: New prime numbers claim top spots”]

The Scientific American article quotes Smith: “We thought it would be a good thing to use to get undergraduates interested in computational mathematics."

Smith adds, "It’s been sort of off my radar for quite some time, because frankly it’s such well-written software that it doesn’t need any maintenance. And in my business, you put something in, and if it doesn’t require any maintenance you just let it go.”


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