With nearly one million more digits than the previous record holder, the new largest prime number is the 50th rare Mersenne prime ever to be discovered. The latest discovery from a global gang of enthusiasts is a thing of beauty: the largest prime number ever found. The number belongs to a rare group of so-called Mersenne prime numbers, named after the 17th century French monk Marin Mersenne. Like any prime number, a Mersenne prime is divisible only by itself and one, but is derived by multiplying twos together over and over before taking away one.
The previous record-holding number was the 49th Mersenne prime ever found, making the new one the 50th. “I’m very surprised it was found this quickly; we expected it to take longer,” said Chris Caldwell, a professor of mathematics who runs a website on the largest prime numbers at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
The new prime number was originally found on Boxing Day by the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search collaboration which harnesses the number-crunching power of volunteers’ computers all over the world.
Curtis Cooper, a professor of mathematics at the University of Central Missouri, found the previous record-holding Mersenne prime in 2016, the fourth prime he has helped to find through the Gimps project in 20 years.