Sep 16, 2008
Yesterday we reported on the impending announcement of two newly discovered mammoth prime numbers, and the details, now out, do not disappoint. According to the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), the volunteer-powered distributed-computing group responsible for finding most of the largest known primes (a prime number is divisible only by 1 and itself), both are larger than any other known primes: one clocks in at nearly 13 million digits in length and the other at a slightly smaller 11.2 million digits.
That’s good news for Edson Smith, a computing resource manager in the math department at the University of California, Los Angeles: It was his machine that stumbled upon the larger prime (243,112,609 - 1 in shorthand), so he's in to claim the $100,000 prize offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for the discoverer of the first 10-million-plus-digit prime. (The smaller of the new primes, turned up by a German GIMPS member, would also have qualified for the prize but was discovered two weeks later.) Under a prize-sharing agreement implemented by GIMPS, Smith or his institution would receive half the prize, with $25,000 going to charity, $5,000 going to GIMPS to cover expenses, and the balance going to past GIMPS volunteers who discovered lesser primes.
Sep 15, 2008 | 1
Prime numbers have long held a special appeal among the mathematically minded, from the Greek astronomer Eratosthenes, who devised a method for finding primes some 2,200 years ago, to the cryptographers who made them the foundation of today’s encryption protocols. Primes, each of which is divisible only by 1 and itself, have even been subject to claims of numerical ownership: California computer consultant Roger Schlafly patented two of them in 1994.
Now, the distributed-computing consortium that discovered the six largest known primes is set to unveil two more—including, possibly, a $100,000 prize–winning whopper. (We reported on the preliminary findings last month.) The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), started in 1996, looks for prime numbers of the form 2n – 1, known as Mersenne primes, of which 44 have been identified so far (the new additions would be numbers 45 and 46).
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