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Prime Cut

Longtime readers would actually have no clue that I have an interest in prime numbers, since I have never posted about them here, but I do. Prime numbers have always struck me as one of those useless yet probably vital ideas that could very well be intimately related to something eerily fundamental about the universe.

So I was very pleased to learn that [someone has discovered]() the largest prime number thus far. (2021 note: dead link)

It is a Mersenne prime, and, like all Mersenne primes, reads as follows: 2 to the power of 20,996,011 minus 1. 20,996,011 is itself a prime.

Another kind of number that I think is cool is something called a perfect number. 6 is the smallest example. It is both the sum of 1 + 2 + 3 and the product of 1 x 2 x 3. It’s perfect. 28 is the next, then 496, then 8128.

Perfect numbers and primes are mutually exclusive, of course, and both are rare, but in spite of this, they are both groups with infinite members. Incredibly rare yet infinite? Wowza.

Of course the coolest thing about the story, and the only part of it that even makes it a story worthy of CNN and Yahoo News and all the other mainstream outlets that probably covered it this week, is that this new monster prime wasn’t discovered by a team of scientists using, say, the Virginia Tech cluster, but by some college kid with a PC he got at CompUSA or wherever.

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