Mathematicians shocked to find pattern in “random” prime numbers

Mathematicians are stunned by the discovery that prime numbers are pickier than previously thought. The find suggests number theorists need to be a little more careful when exploring the vast infinity of primes.

Primes, the numbers divisible only by themselves and 1, are the building blocks from which the rest of the number line is constructed, as all other numbers are created by multiplying primes together. That makes deciphering their mysteries key to understanding the fundamentals of arithmetic.

Although whether a number is prime or not is pre-determined, mathematicians don’t have a way to predict which numbers are prime, and so tend to treat them as if they occur randomly. Now Kannan Soundararajan and Robert Lemke Oliver of Stanford University in California have discovered that isn’t quite right. “It was very weird,” says Soundararajan. “It’s like some painting you are very familiar with, and then suddenly you realise there is a figure in the painting you’ve never seen before.”