
Announcement (in July 1999) of the discovery of the largest known composite Fermat number
My Maplebased public lecture (in mws and html format)  The history of Fermat numbers from August 1640  may be accessed in the Public and other lectures section of my site. A related paper, written by Yves Gallot, may be accessed here. The above number was found, and
proved composite, using Yves Gallot's Proth
program. The discovery was made on one of my
College's 350 MHz Pentium computers, as a result of finding the prime number p =
3X2^{382449} + 1.
The previous record composite Fermat number:
was announced by Jeffrey Young (no known web site available) of in Mathematics of Computation  an American Mathematical Society journal  in early 1998. Jeffrey Young found that F_{303,088}  having just over 10^{90,000} decimal digits  has the 91,241 decimal digits prime factor 3*2^{303,093} + 1. The new record composite Fermat number  F_{382,447 } is almost 10^{24000 }times greater than F_{303,088}.The above remarkable GallotProth discovery is the fruit of an international collaborative effort (click here to see Recent Ranges Checked, here to submit/reserve a range, or here to access tables showing status of current state of testing), led by Yves Gallot  the brilliant creator of the Proth.exe program  ably helped, in the compilation of the work, by the valiant Ray Ballinger. Any member of the team could have made this discovery, but few of us could have done it (and certainly not I) without Yves Gallot's initiative and his enormous talent.Complete details concerning the current state of knowledge concerning Fermat numbers (put together by Wilfrid Keller, himself a discoverer of many Fermat number results) are available at this location. Chris Caldwell's remarkably encyclopaedic Prime Pages site is the site for prime numbers in general. The enlightened French Embassy in Dublin sponsored a visit to Ireland by Yves Gallot in October 1999. Yves Gallot was the guest of honour at a reception at my College on Thursday, 28^{th} October, hosted by my College's President (historian Dr. Pauric Travers), and there followed a public lecture (using Maple), given by me, with the title The history of Fermat numbers from August 1640. On the following afternoon  Friday 29^{th} October, at 4.30 P.M, in the Salmon Lecture Theatre of Trinity College, Dublin  Yves Gallot gave a talk on the history of his remarkable program.
An informal history of the discovery. For some weeks I had been checking for primality numbers of the form 3X2^{n} + 1 with n in the range 366,000 to 390,000 Just before 5.00 P.M. on the afternoon of Friday, 23^{rd} July 1999, I left my office to check on the state of the GallotProth computations in College's main computer lab., Room D 318. I refreshed the screens of computer after computer, and clicked up the screens to view earlier computations. In the third row, I examined computer #17, the second last one in that row. After a few seconds I registered  with great delight  that the number 3X2^{382449} + 1 was a prime (and had only been registered as such some minutes earlier). I saw that there was a consequent computation in progress  the one that would test for possible division into related Fermat numbers  which was going to take some "1200mn 27sec" to complete. Thus the outcome would be known at about 5.00 P.M. the following day, the 28^{th} wedding anniversary of myself and my wife, Mary. (Could I risk coming into College at such a time, when we would be about to go out for a meal together? It had to be 'No!', I could come in first thing on Monday morning...) (Did I sleep that night, and the following one? Or on any night since?) On Sunday, just after midday, I checked my home email, and found I had an excited message from Yves Gallot, who, nevertheless, gave nothing away! It would not be proper for me to quote it here, but he advised me that I ought to go back to my College's computer and take a look at its screen. He mentioned four well known people to whom he had already written, but said he would leave it to me to inform... . To say that I was excited would be to put it mildly, but at the same time I didn't wish to inflict a visit on my wife to my College at such a time. I went downstairs to tell my wife that we had almost certainly found the largest composite Fermat number, otherwise Yves Gallot's letter simply would not be sensible... After lunch, and setting off for an afternoon's walk to Dalkey, I began to give my wife yet another lecture on the beauty of Fermat numbers, and  possibly to shut me up, though actually because  as she said  I would get no sleep that night, she suggested we go back home, get our bikes, and cycle over to College... On the way I could think of nothing else but my boyhood mathematical heroes Euler (who was the first to find a composite Fermat number, the hand sized F_{5} = 2^{(25)} + 1 = 2^{32} + 1 = 641X6,700,417) and Fermat (and think also of the more modestly talented Landry, who at 82 years of age found that F_{6} = 2^{(26)} + 1 = 2^{64} + 1 = 274,177X67,280,421,310,721) By the time we got up to Room D 318 I was in quite a state (only some hours later there was a power failure in College; if that had happened before we had arrived...). To computer #17, a touch to the mouse to refresh the screen, a couple of clicks up the side to get back to the earlier outputs, and there it was!! Oh joy! I know how Wilfrid Keller felt
when he discovered, in 1984, that What I learned from correspondence with Yves Gallot. Yves Gallot was about to leave his office in Toulouse that Friday afternoon when he checked at Chris Caldwell's site to see which new large primes had been submitted that day, and he saw the one I had submitted a few hours earlier. On his arrival home he also saw my email, and immediately set about checking the computations on his own computer. By midmorning, Sunday 25th he knew that his program had discovered the largest known composite Fermat number... . What joy. After recovering a little, he mailed me, suggesting that I have a look at my College computer... Digital photograph of the screen of computer #17 College suffered a power failure sometime in the evening of Sunday 25^{th} of July, as a result of which the full screen version of the GallotProth computation was lost. However in Notepad the entire log of the computations was saved, and today my colleague Paul Murphy took a number of digital photos of the screen of computer #17 (appropriately '17' is a Fermat number!!). Unfortunately you cannot see the initial part of the 3X2^382449 + 1, but one can see most of the relevant outputs. One can see the important 'a = 5' and 'a = 11,' and the 'F382447.' I was asked that question many, many times in the days following the discovery. My initial response was something along the lines of: Oh! It is utterly gigantic, astronomically large, etc., etc. Then I decided to stop giving vague answers, and give a fairly detailed response (which may not be all that more helpful), and it is this:
The above numbers might
appear to be a bit fantastic (in the sense of being in the realms of fantasy),
but they are not, and I would like just to treat the first of them with a
backofanenvelope analysis, which easily establishes the order of magnitude for the
number of digits in the base 10 representation of the Fermat number F_{382,447}.
This is how it can be done (a series of simple lower estimates, which is deliberately
pitched at school level), merely by using the simple observation that 2^{10} =
1024 > 1000 = 10^{3}. My reader should be able to see the
appropriate justification at each stage (read left to right along each line, and then
continue into the next line. The expressions have had to be created as gif files, and so
some look a little unusual, but should not cause any real difficulties. In the 5^{th}
of the expressions, the ' . ' (between the '12' and the '2')
is ' times ', and not a ' decimal point '): = > , and thus: > ... (i) Then, since 2^{382,445} = (2^{10})^{38,244.5} > (10^{3})^{38,244.5} = 10^{114,733.5}, we finally have, from (i),
that and so it is immediately clear that F_{382,447} has at least 10^{114,733} digits when expressed in the base 10. 