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Week 18

(2/13/03)

Distribution of primes

A necessary and sufficient condition

for N to be prime is that N have no prime

factors less than or equal to N . Therefore, under the assumption that a prime p

divides N with probability 1/p, the probability that N is prime is

1

P (N ) = 1

2

1

1

3

1

1

5

1

1

1

1

7

p( N )

(1)

where p(N ) denotes the largest prime less than or equal to N . Our strategy for

solving for P (N ) will be to produce a differential equationfor it.

Consider P (N + n), where n is an integer that satisfies N n N . We have

1

P (N + n) = 1

2

1

1

3

1

1

5

1

1

1

1

7

p( N +n)

where p(N +n) denotes the largest prime less than or equal to

be written as

(2)

1

1

1 (N +n) ,

(3)

p2

p

between N and N + n. Let there be k of these

primes. Since n N , we have N + n/ N 1. Therefore, the pi are multiplicatively all roughly

the same. To a good approximation, we may therefore set them

P (N + n) = P (N ) 1

1

p1

1

P (N + n) P (N ) 1

N

(4)

N and N + n is

r

n

N

=

N 1+

N

N 1+

N

2N

n

.

=

(5)

2 N

there are approximately

P ( N )n

k

(6)

2 N

N +n N

Since

n

N

,

we

see

that

k

(1 1/ N )k term in eq. (4) by 1 k/ N . Using the value of k from eq. (6), and

writing P (N + n) P (N ) + P 0 (N )n, we can rewrite eq. (4) as

!

P ( N )n

0

P (N ) + P (N )n P (N ) 1

.

(7)

2N

We therefore arrive at the differential equation,

P (N )P ( N )

P (N )

.

2N

0

(8)

1

,

ln N

P (N )

(9)

as we wanted to show.

Remarks:

1. It turns out (under the assumption that a prime p divides N with probability 1/p)

that the probability that N has exactly n prime factors is

Pn (N )

(ln ln N )n1

.

(n 1)! ln N

(10)

Our original problem dealt with the case n = 1, and eq. (10) does indeed reduce to

eq. (9) when n = 1. Eq. (10) can be proved by induction on n, but the proof I have

is rather messy. If anyone has a clean proof, let me know.

2. We should check that P1 (N ) + P2 (N ) + P3 (N ) + = 1. The sum must equal 1, of

course, because every number N has some number of divisors. Indeed (letting the

sum go to infinity, with negligible error),

Pn (N )

X

(ln ln N )n1

(n 1)! ln N

n=1

1 X (ln ln N )m

ln N m=0

m!

n=1

eln ln N

ln N

= 1.

(11)

calculate n 1 (which is a little cleaner), and then add 1.

n1 =

(n 1)Pn (N )

n=1

(ln ln N )n1

(n 2)! ln N

n=2

ln ln N X (ln ln N )k

ln N

k!

k=0

= ln ln N.

(12)

We can now add 1 to this to obtain n. However, all our previous results have been

calculated to leading order in N , so we have no right to now include an additive term

of 1. To leading order in N , we therefore have

n ln ln N.

(13)

4. There is another way to calculate n, without using eq. (10). Consider a group of M

numbers, all approximately equal to N . The number of prime factors among all of

these M numbers (which equals M n by definition) is given by1

Mn =

M

M

M

M

+

+

+

+ .

2

3

5

7

(14)

Since the primes in the denominators occur with frequency 1/ ln x, this sum may be

approximated by the integral,

Z

Mn M

1

dx

= M ln ln N.

x ln x

(15)

5. For which n is Pn (N ) maximum? Since Pn+1 (N ) = (ln ln N/n)Pn (N ), we see that

increasing n increases Pn (N ) if n < ln ln N . But increasing n decreases Pn (N ) if

n > ln ln N . So the maximum Pn (N ) is obtained when

n ln ln N.

(16)

6. The probability distribution in eq. (10) is a Poisson distribution, for which the results

in the previous remarks are well known. A Poisson distribution is what arises in a

random process such as throwing a large number of balls into a group of boxes. For

the problem at hand, if we take M (ln ln N ) primes and throw them down onto M

numbers (all approximately equal to N ), then the distribution of primes (actually,

the distribution of primes minus 1) will be (roughly) correct.

Weve counted multiple factors of the same prime only once. For example, weve counted 16 as

having only one prime factor. To leading order in N , this method

P ofk counting gives the same n as

assigning four prime factors to 16 gives (due to the fact that

(1/p ) converges for k 2).

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