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1. Early History

Many early writers felt that the numbers of the form 2

n

-1

were primefor

all

primes

n

, but in

1536

Hudalricus Regius showed that 2

11

-1

= 2047was not prime (it is 2

3

.

89).

By

16

0

3

Pietro Cataldihad correctly verifiedthat 2

1

7

-1

and 2

19

-1

were both prime, but then incorrectly stated 2

n

-1

was also prime for 2

3

, 2

9

,

31

and

3

7

.

In

16

40Fermatshowed Cataldiwas wrong about 2

3

and

3

7; thenEuler in

1

7

38

showed Cataldi wasalso wrong about 2

9.

Sometime later Euler showed Cataldi's assertionabout

31

was correct

.

Enter French monkMarin Mersenne(

1588-16

4

8).

Mersenne stated inthe preface to his

Cogit

a

t

a Phys

ic

a-Ma

t

hema

tic

a

(

16

44

)

that thenumbers 2

n

-1

were prime for

n

= 2,

3

,

5

, 7,

13

,

1

7,

19

,

3

1, 67, 127 and 257

and were composite for all other positive integers

n

< 2

5

7

.

Mersenne's(incorrect

)

conjecture fared only slightly better than Regius', but still gothis name attached to these numbers

.

Def

inition:

When 2

n

-1

is prime it is said to be a

M

e

rs

e

nn

e

prim

e

.

It was obvious to Mersenne's peers that he could not have tested all of these numbers (in fact he admitted as much

)

, but they could not testthem either

.

It was not until over

1

00 years later, in

1

7

5

0, that Euler verified the next number on Mersenne's and Regius' lists, 2

31

-1

, wasprime

.

After another century, in

18

7

6

,Lucasverified 2

1

27

-1

was alsoprime

.

Seven years later Pervouchine showed 2

61

-1

was prime, soMersenne had missed this one

.

In the early

19

00's Powers showed thatMersenne had also missed the primes 2

89

-1

and 2

1

07

-1.

Finally, by

19

47Mersenne's range,

n

< 2

58

, had been completely checked and it wasdetermined that the correct list is:

n

= 2,

3

,

5

, 7,

13

,

1

7,

19

,

31

,

61

,

89

,

1

07 and

1

27

.

See thetable of known Mersenneprimes below

.

2. P

e

r

fec

t Numb

e

rs and a F

ew

Th

e

or

e

ms

Many ancient cultures were concerned with the relationship of a number with the sum of its divisors, often giving mystic interpretations

.

Here weare concerned only with one such relationship:

Def

inition:

A positive integer

n

is called a

p

e

r

fec

t numb

e

r

if it is equalto the sum of all of its positive divisors, excluding

n

itself

.

For example,

6

is the first perfect number because

6

=

1+

2

+3.

The nextis 2

8

=

1+

2

+

4

+

7

+1

4

.

The next two are 4

96

and

81

2

8.

These four wereall known before the time of Christ

.

Look at these numbers in thefollowing partially factored form:

2

.

3

, 4

.

7,

16

.

31

,

6

4

.

1

27

.

D

o you notice they all have the same form 2

n

-1

(2

n

-1)

(for

n

= 2,

3

,

5

, and7 respectively

)?

And that in each case 2

n

-1

was a Mersenne prime

?

Infact it is easy to show the following theorems:

Th

e

or

e

m On

e

:

k

is an even perfect number if and only if it has the form2

n

-1

(2

n

-1)

and 2

n

-1

is prime

.

[Proof

.]

Th

e

or

e

m T

w

o:

If 2

n

-1

is prime, then so is

n

.

[Proof

.]

So the search for Mersennes is also the search for even perfectnumbers!

Y

ou may have also noticed that the perfect numbers listed above (

6

, 2

8

,4

96

,

81

2

8)

all end with either the digit

6

or the digit

8--

this is also veryeasy to prove (but no, they do not continue to alternate

6

,

8

,

6

,

8

,

...).

If you like that digit pattern, look at the first four perfect numbers in binary:

110111001111100001111111000000

(The binary digit pattern is a consequence of Theorem One

.)

It isnotknownwhether or not there is an odd perfect number, but if there is oneit is big! This is probably the oldest unsolved problem in all of mathematics

.

When checking to see if a Mersenne number is prime, we usually firstlook for any small divisors

.

The following theorem of Euler and Fermatis very useful in this regard

.

Th

e

or

e

m Thr

ee

:

Let

p

and

q

be primes

.

If

q

divides M

p

= 2

p

-1

, then

q

=

+/-1

(mod

8)

and

q

= 2

kp

+

1

for some integer

k

.

[Proof

.]

Finally, we offer the following for your perusal:

Th

e

or

e

m Four:

Let

p

=

3

(mod 4

)

be prime

.

2

p

+1

is also prime if andonly if 2

p

+1

divides M

p

.

[Proof

].

Th

e

or

e

m Fiv

e

:

If you sum the digits of any even perfect number (except

6)

, then sum the digits of the resulting number, and repeat thisprocess until you get a single digit, that digit will be one

.

[Proof

.]

3

. Tabl

e

o

f

Kno

w

n

M

e

rs

e

nn

e

Prim

e

s

Let M(

p

)

= 2

p

-1

and P(

p

)

= 2

p

-1

(2

p

-1).

The list of all known primes

p

for which M(

p

)

is a Mersenne prime (therefore P(

p

)

is a perfect number

)

follows:

##

p

(exponent)digits

in M

p

digits

in P

p

year discoverer notes

1 2 1 1 ---- ----2 3 1 2 ---- ----3 5 2 3 ---- ----4 7 3 4 ---- ----5 13 4 8 1456 anonymous6 17 6 10 1588 Cataldi7 19 6 12 1588 Cataldi8 31 10 19 1772 Euler 9 61 19 37 1883 Pervushin10 89 27 54 1911 Powers11 107 33 65 1914 Powersnote12 127 39 77 1876 Lucas13 521 157 314 1952 Robinson14 607 183 366 1952 Robinson15 1279 386 770 1952 Robinson16 2203 664 1327 1952 Robinson17 2281 687 1373 1952 Robinson18 3217 969 1937 1957 Riesel19 4253 1281 2561 1961 Hurwitz20 4423 1332 2663 1961 Hurwitz21 9689 2917 5834 1963Gillies

22 9941 2993 5985 1963 Gillies23 11213 3376 6751 1963 Gillies24 19937 6002 12003 1971 Tuckerman [Tuckerman71]25 21701 6533 13066 1978 Noll& Nickel [ NN80]

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