Microsoft Windows Azure seeking out ‘hidden’ prime numbers

Microsoft Windows Azure is laying down the prime number gauntlet in the shape of a new challenge that aims to discover new prime numbers.

The Prime Challenge, which got underway on 29 November, is open to businesses, schools, universities, clubs and individuals with the company inviting anyone to look for ‘hidden’ primes.

“The biggest prime number ever discovered is 17 million decimal digits long. Previously, the biggest prime number was 12 million digits long. It’s a lot of digits, but there is also a big gap between those two. Potentially there are a lot of “lost primes” waiting to be discovered,” said Steve Plank, Cloud Computing and STEM Evangelist at Microsoft.

Anyone that is looking to take part in the challenge can go to www.primechallenge.org, where there are further instructions on the contest and how to enter.

“The identification of new prime numbers is increasingly challenging, but possible for anyone. Forty per cent of the numbers between one and ten are prime but, as we progress up the number line, they taper off and become sparser. But in reality, as we get much further up the number line nobody really knows as nobody has ever searched for them all,” Plank added.

Prime numbers play an integral role in the business sector and are used to construct public key cryptography algorithms that act to make online data transfers secure, including email encryption and bank card security. It means that almost all online purchases use prime numbers in their security process. The numbers are also at the centre of arithmetic and numerous functional applications in the digital world.

The Microsoft Windows Azure Prime Challenge runs until 29 March and particpants are able to subscribe to a free trial of Microsoft Windows Azure that gives them $200 worth of free access.