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With 22.3 million digits, new prime number sets record

KANSAS CITY, Mo. » Mathematicians at the University of Central Missouri have discovered a record-setting prime number that’s so large it would take about 6,000 pages of paper to print, the school announced today.

The 22.3-million-digit discovery is the 49th known Mersenne prime number and the fourth discovered at the university. Primes are numbers such as 3, 7 and 11 that are divisible only by themselves and 1 without leaving a remainder.

Computer science and mathematics professor Curtis Cooper said he feels “pretty fortunate because there is some luck involved.”

Mersenne primes are named after the 17th century French mathematician who discovered them, Marin Mersenne. They’re expressed as 2P-1, or 2 to the power of “P” minus 1. P is itself a prime number. For the new prime, P is 74,207,281.

The number was independently verified, according to the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, a cooperative in which underused computing power is harnessed to perform the calculations needed to find and verify Mersenne primes.

The organization said in a news release that prime numbers are important for cryptography but that the newly discovered number is currently too large for that purpose. One benefit of Mersenne primes is testing computer hardware.

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