According to a mathematician at the University of Central Missouri, the largest prime number is 17,425,170 digits long.
The Huffington Post reports that largest prime number before Curtis Cooper’s discovery was only 12,978,189 digits long.
George Woltman, the creator of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), said:
“It’s analogous to climbing Mt. Everest … People enjoy it for the challenge of the discovery of finding something that’s never been known before.”
According to Time Magazine, Curtis is one of the leading minds in the field and has made three big prime number discoveries. Curtis’ most recent discovery is known as a Mersenne prime number. The 17,425,170 digit number is only the 48th known Mersenne prime number.
“Named after their discoverer Marin Mersenne, a 17th century French monk, the numbers are all expressed as 2 raised to the power of “P” minus 1, of which P is also a prime. The newly identified number is the 48th known Mersenne prime.”
Curtis used GIMPS in order to find the new prime number. GIMPS, a system that uses 360,00 volunteer processors to search for prime numbers, has drastically sped up the process of finding Mersenne prime numbers.
“If you were to do it it (manually) would take longer than the age of the universe.”
Once the largest prime number was identified Cooper went about the task of checking his work. It took 39 days to make sure that his number, 2 raised to the 57,885,161 power minus 1, was actually a prime number.
“Every time I find one it is incredible. I kind of consider it like climbing Mount Everest or finding a really rare diamond or landing somebody on the moon. It’s an accomplishment. It’s a scientific feat.”