Over a century looking for prime numbers

September 18th, 2007 | Categories: math software | Tags:

When my computers aren’t doing anything important they spend their time looking for large prime numbers using the software provided by the people over at the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS). In particular the software looks for Mersenne Primes which have the form

 \light 2^p-1

Mersenne Primes are very rare – only 44 are known at the time of writing and the GIMPS project is looking for new ones. Their most recent find was a prime number with 9,152,052 digits (currently the largest known prime number of any kind) and the race is on to find one with over 10,000,000 digits. Since a group called the Electronic Frontier Foundation has put up a prize of $100,000 for the discovery of such a prime, a lot more than fame awaits any potential discoverer.

Everyone with a computer and an internet connection can have a stab at looking for mersenne primes. All you need to do is go over to the GIMPS website, download their (free) software and run it. It will ask you some questions in order to create an account and then will ask the primenet server for a unallocated prime to test. Once it is up and running there is literally nothing else you have to do as it takes care of itself – returning results and requesting new numbers to test automagically.

Why do I mention this now? Well I just checked my stats and it seems that my machines have done an amount of work equivalent to a Pentium 90 running non-stop for 115 years (I am not sure why it measures time in Pentium 90 units). That’s not bad going since I only opened my account in March.

Finally, If you find the 10 million digit prime and win the prize money then what better way of spending some of the money than buying a framed copy of your record breaking number.

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