Prime numbers are divisible only by themselves and by the number one, and as you might imagine, they become more mind boggling as numbers get larger. After all, there are infinite numbers to check for prime status. But now there's a new record-breaking prime number with more than 22 million digits, which is 5 million longer than the previous record breaker. A text file containing the entire number takes up 21.7 MB of space.
The number 274,207,281-1 was "discovered" by Curtis Cooper, a professor at the University of Central Missouri. But Cooper didn't detect the number using his academic prowess – he just happens to have some of the university's computers hooked up to the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS). GIMPS allows folks all over the world to download software that searches for prime numbers using idle processing power.
"While prime numbers are important for cryptography, this prime is too large to currently be of practical value," GIMPS representatives wrote in a statement. But searching for prime numbers can help test the capabilities of computer processors.
The University of Central Missouri is the biggest contributor of processing time and power to the project, and this is Cooper's fourth resulting record prime find. The number was actually detected by Cooper's computer in September, but the software didn't notify GIMPS. It was discovered earlier this month when a human running a database check noticed the number and realized it was, in fact, prime.
If you want a shot at breaking Cooper's latest record, download the GIMPS software here and put your computer to work crunching numbers.
Correction: A previous version of this post stated Cooper's affiliation as the University of Missouri. In fact, he's a professor at the University of Central Missouri.