Largest Known Prime Number With 23 Million Digits Discovered

Prime number becomes more interesting with the discovery of the largest known "Mersenne prime" that contains 23 million digits.

The largest known prime number was discovered.
Gorbachlena / Thinkstock

Prime number becomes more interesting with the discovery of the largest known "Mersenne prime" that contains 23 million digits.

A FedEx employee from Tennessee discovered the largest known prime number called M77232917, which is the 50th “Mersenne prime.” It contains 23,249,425 digits; a number which a human being could be difficult to comprehend.

M77232917 was discovered by Jonathan Pace, a 51-year-old engineer from Germantown, Tennessee. This prime number is almost a million digits longer than the past record holder, which was discovered in January 2016.

Pace volunteered for a project known as the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) together with thousands of other volunteers. They were provided with modern computers and GIMPS software. He discovered the largest prime number using a special piece of computational software for six days, according to CNBC.

Mersenne primes are named after the French monk Marin Mersenne, who studied these numbers in the early 17th century. The Mersenne prime number is calculated by subtracting one from the power of two.

So, the new prime number was calculated by multiplying the number two 77,232,917 times and then subtracting one. The number is over 23 million digits long and could fill a whole shelf of books with a total of 9,000 pages, according to GIMP.

The prime number is verified by four various programs with different hardware configurations. It was confirmed by four people, namely Aaron Blosser who used Prime95 on an Intel Xeon server in 37 hours, Andreas Hoglund using CUDALucas running on NVidia Titan Black GPU in 73 hours, David Stanfill using gpuOwL on an AMD RX Vega 64 GPU in 34 hours, and Ernst Mayer using his own program Mlucas on 32-core Xeon server in 82 hours, according to Gizmodo.

Chris Caldwell, a professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of Tennessee who studies prime numbers, said that searching for a prime is not going to change any theorems in mathematics. However, Mersenne prime has been interesting to mathematicians since the time before Christ. He further said that even the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid talked about what would later become the Mersenne primes.

Caldwell also described these prime numbers as exceedingly rare and sporadic. He also said that the last few Mersenne primes have been closer to each other than the researchers expected.