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UCLA finds a special number--and it has 12 million digits

September 26, 2008 |  3:18 pm

UCLA mathematicians appear to have won the $100,000 prize from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for discovering the first verified Mersenne prime number with more than 10 million digits.

The winning number has a whopping 12,978,189 digits.

The new number is only the 46th known Mersenne prime.

Prime numbers are those, such as three, seven and 11, that are divisible only by themselves and one. Mersenne primes, named after the 17th century French mathematician Marin Mersenne, who discovered them, take the form 2P – 1, where P is also a prime number.

In the new UCLA prime, P = 43,112,609. Thousands of people around the world have been participating in the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search or GIMPS, in which underused computing power is harnessed to perform the complex and tedious calculations needed to find and verify Mersenne primes.

--Thomas H. Maugh II