Math Nerds Will Geek Out at This Prime Discovery

Here's one for the math nerds: A computer in Missouri has identified the largest known prime number.

ByAlyssa Newcomb
January 20, 2016, 11:57 AM
PHOTO: A computer has found the largest known prime number. It's 22 million digits long.
A computer has found the largest known prime number. It's 22 million digits long.
Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search

— -- Here's one for the math nerds: A supercomputer in Missouri has identified the largest known prime number.

Prime numbers are of divisible only by themselves and the number one. The largest known prime number now is an astounding 22,338,618 digits and was discovered by a researcher at the University of Central Missouri, according to the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), which has been finding world record prime numbers since 1996.

The discovery beats the previously known prime number by nearly five million digits.

Mersenne primes are named for a French monk who studied the numbers 350 years ago. They're searched for by taking the number two to "n" power and then subtracting one. Not every number plugged into this calculation produces a prime number, however, computers have been able to use the simple formula to search for even longer prime numbers.

Examples of Mersenne primes include three and seven. The latest number discovered would be written like this: 2^74,207,281 - 1.

Prime numbers play an important role when it comes to computer encryption -- helping to keep safe online banking, private messages and shopping transactions. While this nerdy discovery is awesome -- GIMPS said in a statement it may be too soon for it to have any practical value.

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