The Oldest Unsolved Problem in Math

The Oldest Unsolved Problem in Math

Perfect Numbers

  • A perfect number is a positive integer that is equal to the sum of its proper divisors.
  • The oldest unsolved problem in mathematics is to determine if any odd perfect numbers exist.
  • The only even perfect numbers known to the ancient Greeks were 6, 28, 496, and 8,128.
  • Euclid discovered a pattern that generates even perfect numbers: (2^{p-1} \times (2^p - 1)), where (p) is a prime number.
  • Nicomachus published five conjectures about perfect numbers, including that all perfect numbers are even and end in 6 or 8 alternately.
  • Ibn Fallus published a list of 10 perfect numbers, but three of them were incorrect.
  • Marin Mersenne studied numbers of the form (2^p - 1) and identified several Mersenne primes, which correspond to perfect numbers.
  • Pierre de Fermat and Rene Descartes believed that if an odd perfect number exists, it must have a special form.
  • Descartes proposed the existence of perfect numbers but couldn't prove it.
  • Leonhard Euler made three breakthroughs in studying perfect numbers.
  • Euler proved that every even perfect number has Euclid's form, solving a 1600-year-old problem.
  • Euler conjectured that every odd perfect number must have a specific form but couldn't prove its existence.
  • Progress in finding new perfect numbers was slow until the advent of computers.
  • Raphael Robinson used a computer program to find five new Mersenne primes and corresponding perfect numbers in 1952.
  • The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) was launched in 1996 to distribute the search for Mersenne primes over many computers, leading to the discovery of 17 new Mersenne primes.
  • The largest known prime number is 2 to the power of 82,589,933 minus 1, discovered in 2018.
  • Mersenne primes are a special type of prime numbers that are almost always the largest known prime numbers.
  • The Lenstra and Pomerance Wagstaff conjecture predicts that there are infinitely many Mersenne primes and even perfect numbers.

Odd Perfect Numbers

  • Odd perfect numbers are numbers that are the sum of their proper divisors and are odd.
  • No odd perfect numbers have been found yet, and the largest known lower bound for an odd perfect number is 10 to the power of 2,200.
  • Spoofs are numbers that are very close to being odd perfect numbers, but are not perfect because they have a composite prime factor.
  • A heuristic argument suggests that there are no odd perfect numbers between 10 to the power of 2,200 and infinity.

Applications and Significance

  • Number theory had no real-world applications for over 2000 years, but it later became the foundation of cryptography.
  • The problem of perfect numbers has no known applications, but it has led to the development of new mathematical ideas and techniques.
  • Around 10 to 15 mathematicians are currently working on the problem of perfect numbers.

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