There’s Amazon Prime, and Then There’s Mersenne Prime

Estimates are that there are 85 million Amazon Prime members.

Now some people may find such a number interesting, certainly Jeff Bezos would, as would all those who hold Amazon stock (which many people do, if not outright, then through a mutual fund).

Now there are other people who may find Mersenne Primes much more interesting, myself included.

Here’s an explanation of a Mersenne Prime from Wikipedia:

In mathematics, a Mersenne prime is a prime number that is one less than a power of two. That is, it is a prime number of the form Mn = 2n − 1 for some integer n. They are named after Marin Mersenne, a French Minim friar, who studied them in the early 17th century. (A prime number is a number that is divisible only by the number 1 and itself).

Prime numbers are important, especially when it comes to cryptography, internet security, and the future of computing.

So you may wonder, why am I writing about Mersenne Primes?

This past week, a FedEx employee from Germantown, Tenn., made a massive discovery — and it wasn’t in any packages. John Pace found the largest prime number known to humankind.

Pace, a volunteer for the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) for over 14 years, discovered the 50th known Mersenne prime, 277,232,917-1 on December 26, 2017. The prime number is calculated by multiplying together 77,232,917 twos, and then subtracting one. It weighs in at 23,249,425 digits, becoming the largest prime number known to mankind. It bests the previous record prime, also discovered by GIMPS, by 910,807 digits.

Just how big is a 23,249,425 digit number? According to the GIMPS web site, big enough to fill an entire shelf of books totalling 9,000 pages. If every second you were to write five digits to an inch then 54 days later you’d have a number stretching over 73 miles (118 km) — almost 3 miles (5 km) longer than the previous record prime.

One of the things I like about this discovery is that Pace has become part of  Mersenne Prime history, one that can be traced all of the way back to 500 BC, to the time of the ancient Greek mathematicians.

I am also fairly certain that people will be working on discovering new Mersenne Primes long after Amazon Prime ceases to exist.

By the way, anyone can participate in the GIMPS project; all you need is a computer, an internet connection, the free software at, and a lot of patience.

Go Math!


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