If you thought the world's longest word that took over three hours to say was a little lengthy, wait till you hear about this latest prime number that a US mathematician has managed to crunch up - It is, drum roll please . . . A massive 17,425,170 digits long! To put it in perspective, if you decided to hand write it at a pace of one digit per second nonstop for 12 hours, it would take more than a year. Want to print it? Get ready to use at least 5,000 - 6,000 sheets, depending on the size of the paper and font!
The discovery, which trumps the length of the previous longest prime number (a mere 12,978,189 digits) crunched at University of California, Los Angeles, four years ago, is the third time Curtis Cooper, a professor at the University of Missouri has been able to find a 'new' longest prime number. As you can imagine, it was no easy feat - It took 1,000 computers all equipped with special software and crunching simultaneously, 39 days to calculate!
But when computer number 22 finally came up with this number it was not just any prime, but a rare breed known as Mersenne - An elite group that boasts only 47 members. For those that are curious, a Mersenne is a prime number that is one less than the power of two - For example the number 3, which happens to be part of this elite group can be written as 4-1 = 22-1 or 7= 8-1 =23-1.
By now you are probably wondering why Curtis would go through so much trouble to constantly look for these numbers that are not really of much use in everyday life. Turns out, he is not the only one - In fact there are thousands of volunteers that are part of a collaborative project called Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), who spend copious amounts of time looking for new primes.
And, while a discovery does carry with it a nominal prize of $3,000 USD, the math enthusiasts do it largely for the bragging rights and fame. While it may be hard to believe, Curtis is currently a superstar who is being inundated with fan calls since this discovery was made public on February 6th, a status he will maintain until . . . The next prime number is found, a task that is going to prove increasingly difficult given that the numbers are getting so large!
For those that are a little rusty on their math, a prime number is a positive integer that cannot be divided by any other number except itself and 1 - Numbers like 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 etc. etc. What makes discovering them so challenging is that there is no set pattern to find them. But given that in 300 B.C. a mathematician by the name of Euclid proved that there are an infinite number of primes, this is going to be a perpetual race for math enthusiasts.
Resources: Dailymail.co.uk,kansascity.com, Telegraph.co.uk