1. Headline
  1. Headline
By
updated 2/5/2013 1:11:47 PM ET 2013-02-05T18:11:47

The largest prime number has been discovered — and it's 17,425,170 digits long. The new prime number crushes the last one discovered in 2008, which was a paltry 12,978,189 digits long.

The number — 2 raised to the 57,885,161 power minus 1 — was discovered by University of Central Missouri mathematician Curtis Cooper as part of a giant network of volunteer computers devoted to finding primes, similar to projects like SETI@Home, which downloads and analyzes radio telescope data in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

  1. Science news from NBCNews.com
    1. Cosmic rays may spark Earth's lightning
      NOAA

      All lightning on Earth may have its roots in space, new research suggests.

    2. How our brains can track a 100 mph pitch
    3. Moth found to have ultrasonic hearing
    4. Quantum network could secure Internet

The network, called the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) harnesses about 360,000 processors operating at 150 trillion calculations per second. This is the third prime number discovered by Cooper.

"It's analogous to climbing Mount Everest," said George Woltman, the retired, Orlando, Fla.-based computer scientist who created GIMPS. "People enjoy it for the challenge of the discovery of finding something that's never been known before."

In addition, the number is the 48th example of a rare class of primes called Mersenne Primes. Mersenne primes take the form of 2 raised to the power of a prime number minus 1. Since they were first described by French monk Marin Mersenne 350 years ago, only 48 of these elusive numbers have been found, including the most recent discovery. [ The Most Massive Numbers in the Universe ]

After the prime was discovered, it was double-checked by several other researchers using other computers.

While the intuitive way to search for primes would be to divide every potential candidate by ever single number smaller than itself, that would be extremely time-consuming, Woltman told LiveScience.

"If you were to do it that way, it would take longer than the age of the universe," he said.

Instead, mathematicians have devised a much more clever strategy that dramatically reduces the time to find primes.

The new discovery makes Cooper eligible for a $3,000 GIMPS research discovery award.

Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We're also on Facebook  and Google+.

© 2012 LiveScience.com. All rights reserved.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. ‘Unparalleled’ crisis: Ebola death toll tops 2,500

    The Ebola virus outbreak is “unparalleled in modern times,” the World Health Organization said Tuesday as it announced the official death toll climbed to 2,500 with at least 5,000 others infected in West Africa.

    9/16/2014 11:41:33 AM +00:00 2014-09-16T11:41:33
  1. Nbc Newswire / NBC/NBC NewsWire

    She’s smart, beautiful, and now 44: Happy birthday, Tamron!

    9/16/2014 1:10:28 PM +00:00 2014-09-16T13:10:28