Just how big is the world's newly discovered largest prime number? Featuring 22 million digits, M74207281 would take some four months to fully pronounce. In digital terms, it fills a text document with some 44MB of data. It's massive, huge, and yes, comes with more than 7 million commas.
The new record holder comes courtesy of Professor Curtis Cooper and the Great Internet Merseene Prime Search (GIMPS) project, which leverages volunteer computers from around the world to find for elusive Mersenne primes. These numbers, a special class of extremely rare primes, have only been recorded 49 times in history. Of those discoveries, GIMPS and their computer army have been behind 15. Interestingly, the latest number, 274,207,281-1, almost slipped under the researchers' noses.
"Interestingly, Dr. Cooper's computer reported the prime to the server on September 17, 2015," the group shared in a statement. "However, a bug prevented the email notification from being sent. The new prime remained unnoticed until routine database maintenance took place months later. The official discovery date is the day a human took note of the result. This is in keeping with tradition as M4253 is considered never to have been the largest known prime number because Alexander Hurwitz in 1961 read his computer printout backwards and saw M4423 was prime seconds before seeing that M4253 was also prime."
While such a massive prime number has absolutely zero practical purpose, Professor Cooper says the search does prove the value behind a hive of computers working together.
"The idea of having a big distributed computer network to solve some problems like in this case, large prime numbers, can be very valuable," he told Cleveland.com
Want to lend your computer to possibly discover the next giant Mersenne prime? Check out the group's official website here to participate.