Published: Fri, January 05, 2018
Business | By Tara Barton

FedEx Employee Discovers Largest Prime Number Ever at 23 Million Digits Long

FedEx Employee Discovers Largest Prime Number Ever at 23 Million Digits Long

According to GIMPS's website, Pace is a 51-year-old electrical engineer from Tennessee who runs several computers that constantly search for new Mersenne prime numbers.

The new prime number, also known as M77232917, is calculated by multiplying together 77,232,917 twos, and then subtracting one.

The figure, viewable here (.zip file), was found by GIMPS' network of volunteer prime hunters, and is the 50th Mersenne prime discovered. The new prime is 23M digits long and is 1M digits larger than the previous prime.

The quest to find more prime numbers may seem frivolous, but they hold practical applications as well, such as the generation of public key cryptography algorithms, hash tables, and as random number generators.

The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) has announced the discovery of a new largest Mersenne prime number, 2 -1.

Mersenne primes, named after the French friar and mathematician Marin Mersenne, are based on the formula 2 -1. In the days after, four more computers sporting different hardware and software were set the task of verifying the discovery. The previous record-holding number was the 49th Mersenne prime ever found, making the new one the 50th. It's like finding two dead cats on the street. The find reportedly made Pace eligible for a $3,000 (£2,215) award.

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"I'm very surprised it was found this quickly; we expected it to take longer", Professor Chris Caldwell, a mathematician at the University of Tennessee at Martin told The Guardian.

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".

It is almost one million digits longer than the previous record holder, which was identified as part of the same project at the beginning of 2016. "You don't expect to find two so close to one another". He did this running the GIMPS distributed computing client on an Intel Core i5-6600. In mathematics, the first is a natural number greater than the unit, which is only divided by the unit and by itself. But it is easier to prove the Mersenne numbers are primes than it is to prove other primes, he said.

However, any math friend in any country wants to contribute to the work of the GIMPS team by "downloading" a free program to his computer.

The last Mersenne prime was also discovered by GIMPS in January 2016, with the effort led by Dr Curtis Cooper of the University of Central Missouri. "It's like asking why do you climb a mountain".

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