Published September 29, 2008
LOS ANGELES – Mathematicians at UCLA have discovered a 13-million-digit prime number, a long-sought milestone that makes them eligible for a $100,000 prize.
The group found the 46th known Mersenne prime last month on a network of 75 computers running Windows XP. The number was verified by a different computer system running a different algorithm.
"We're delighted," said UCLA's Edson Smith, the leader of the effort. "Now we're looking for the next one, despite the odds."
It's the eighth Mersenne prime discovered at UCLA.
Primes are numbers like three, seven and 11 that are divisible by only two whole positive numbers: themselves and one.
Mersenne primes — named for their discoverer, 17th century French mathematician Marin Mersenne — are expressed as 2P-1, or two to the power of "P" minus one. P is itself a prime number. For the new prime, P is 43,112,609.
Thousands of people around the world have been participating in the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, or GIMPS, a cooperative system in which underused computing power is harnessed to perform the calculations needed to find and verify Mersenne primes.
The $100,000 prize is being offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for finding the first Mersenne prime with more than 10 million digits. The foundation supports individual rights on the Internet and set up the prime number prize to promote cooperative computing using the Web.
The prize could be awarded when the new prime is published, probably next year.