Largest Known Prime Number Discovered

The 48th known Mersenne prime destroys previous record of 12,978,189 digits.

You may have read recently about the discovery of the largest known prime number. But, you may not know that the discovery was made by a computer that is part of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) – which is “the longest continuously running global grassroots supercomputing project in Internet history,” according to the GIMPS website.

The recently discovered largest known prime (which is 2 multiplied 57,885,161 times, minus one) consists of 17,425,170 digits and was discovered on Dr. Curtis Cooper’s computer at the University of Central Missouri. According to the announcement, the new primality proof took 39 days of non-stop computing on the PC.

This latest discovery brings the total number of known Mersenne primes to 48, and GIMPS, which was founded in 1996, has discovered the last 14 of them. These particular primes are named after Marin Mersenne, a French theologian, mathematician, and monk who studied the numbers during the 17th century.

Today, participants in GIMPS can earn discovery awards of US$ 3,000 or US$ 50,000 if their computer discovers a new Mersenne prime. According to the website, the next major goal of the project is to win a US$ 150,000 award offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for finding a 100-million-digit prime number.

The GIMPS software was developed by founder George Woltman, and the PrimeNet system that coordinates all the GIMPS clients was written and is maintained by Scott Kurowski. Details on how to participate are available at: