The Largest Prime Number Discovered
February 15, 2013

The Largest Prime Number Discovered

Set aside your nostalgic recollections of college level calculus and allow me to entice your mind with a bit of food for thought. How well can I satisfy your hunger for interesting academic facts? How about the main course: A new record has been set for the largest prime number known to man.

Math is a subject that has no end. Its origins go back much farther than any scientist or historian could accurately tell you due it being an infinite medium of intelligence. Sure, humans might have invented their own interpretation of time as a measurement system, but math is a science that has an infinite amount of right answers. Consequently, you’ll spend years figuring the correct answer to one of math’s biggest mysteries.

Allow me to elaborate: Two times two is four. This isn’t the simplest mathematics times table, but that will not stop it from being a problem. You could figure the answer to this problem by typing in the increments into a calculator and voile! Everyone goes the simple route, but nevertheless, it is a problem. A calculator could assist you in figuring what the sum of 100 squared is, and could do so in less than half a second. That very same calculator could solve problems that result in six and seven digit numbers.

The real problem is that eventually that calculator will run out of memory to provide you the answer to certain problems. So a bigger calculator is in order to continue the satisfaction of understanding the mysteries of mathematics. Times tables are simple, though we should press a little farther to better understand the complication.

Consider the complexity of a prime number. By definition, a prime number is a number that cannot be divisible by any number that is not one or itself. Number one is a prime number, and so is number two. Numbers three, five, and seven all follow the same rules. By following the definition of what a prime number is, you could track a large list of prime numbers on up to 1,000 and beyond.

The wonderful thing about math is that we interpret it as infinite. Have you reached the number ten? No worries. Just start a new cycle with a new set of numbers that have a remembrance of the previous cycle. This way, you may never forget that all of these numbers started from the number one.

Euclid of Alexandria, also referred to as the Father of Geometry, had a theory that there was an infinite list of prime numbers. I can’t explain the mechanics of the theory as I must keep the content of this post at a fifth grade reading level, but you may certainly view the theory here.

Owing to the theorem, certain mathematicians have taken it upon themselves to challenge this theorem with countless attempts at finding an end to it. Obviously they could never reach the end, but they can discover numbers that no other human has found. So the largest prime number has been documented repeatedly for thousands of years. Since the numbers have gotten so large now, mathematicians have relied on computers to do the calculations for them. The numbers are in fact so large that University of Missouri researcher Curtis Cooper discovered the new largest prime number, which has over 17 million digits.

The process took a computer with over 360,000 processors to validate the four-year journey from the 2008 record that Cooper also set, which held just over 12 million digits. You don’t have to do the math to know that the sheer scale of digit calculation here must be astounding if it took a computer four years to calculate it.

Somebody let Cooper know that he has 15 minutes until the exam is over.

This is a monumental discovery for mathematics buffs. Hopefully Cooper will be vigilant about discovering the next largest prime number in recorded history. Let me know what you think of this mathematics feat in the comments section below!

Image Credit: pashabo / Shutterstock

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