Formula for primes
In number theory, a formula for primes is a formula generating the prime numbers, exactly and without exception. No such formula which is efficiently computable is known. A number of constraints are known, showing what such a "formula" can and cannot be.
Formula based on Wilson's theorem
A simple formula is
- for positive integer .
By Wilson's theorem, is prime if and only if . Thus, when is prime, the first factor in the product becomes one, and the formula produces the prime number . But when is not prime, the first factor becomes zero and the formula produces the prime number 2. This formula is not an efficient way to generate prime numbers because evaluating requires about multiplications and reductions .
Formula based on a system of Diophantine equations
Because the set of primes is a computably enumerable set, by Matiyasevich's theorem, it can be obtained from a system of Diophantine equations. Jones et al. (1976) found an explicit set of 14 Diophantine equations in 26 variables, such that a given number k + 2 is prime if and only if that system has a solution in natural numbers:
The 14 equations α0, …, α13 can be used to produce a prime-generating polynomial inequality in 26 variables:
is a polynomial inequality in 26 variables, and the set of prime numbers is identical to the set of positive values taken on by the left-hand side as the variables a, b, …, z range over the nonnegative integers.
A general theorem of Matiyasevich says that if a set is defined by a system of Diophantine equations, it can also be defined by a system of Diophantine equations in only 9 variables. Hence, there is a prime-generating polynomial as above with only 10 variables. However, its degree is large (in the order of 1045). On the other hand, there also exists such a set of equations of degree only 4, but in 58 variables.
is a prime number for all positive integers n. If the Riemann hypothesis is true, then the smallest such A has a value of around 1.3063778838630806904686144926... (sequence A051021 in the OEIS) and is known as Mills' constant. This value gives rise to the primes , , , ... (sequence A051254 in the OEIS) Very little is known about the constant A (not even whether it is rational). This formula has no practical value, because there is no known way of calculating the constant without finding primes in the first place.
Another prime-generating formula similar to Mills' comes from a theorem of E. M. Wright. He proved that there exists a real number α such that, if
- for ,
is prime for all . Wright gives the first seven decimal places of such a constant: . This value gives rise to the primes , , and . is even, and so is not prime. However, with , , , and are unchanged, while is a prime with 4932 digits. This sequence of primes cannot be extended beyond without knowing more digits of α. Like Mills' formula, and for the same reasons, Wright's formula cannot be used to find primes.
Prime formulas and polynomial functions
It is known that no non-constant polynomial function P(n) with integer coefficients exists that evaluates to a prime number for all integers n. The proof is as follows: Suppose such a polynomial existed. Then P(1) would evaluate to a prime p, so . But for any k, also, so cannot also be prime (as it would be divisible by p) unless it were p itself, but the only way for all k is if the polynomial function is constant.
The same reasoning shows an even stronger result: no non-constant polynomial function P(n) exists that evaluates to a prime number for almost all integers n.
is prime for the 40 integers n = 0, 1, 2, ..., 39. The primes for n = 0, 1, 2, ..., 39 are 41, 43, 47, 53, 61, 71, ..., 1601. The differences between the terms are 2, 4, 6, 8, 10... For n = 40, it produces a square number, 1681, which is equal to 41×41, the smallest composite number for this formula for n ≥ 0. If 41 divides n, it divides P(n) too. Furthermore, since P(n) can be written as n(n + 1) + 41, if 41 divides n + 1 instead, it also divides P(n). The phenomenon is related to the Ulam spiral, which is also implicitly quadratic, and the class number; this polynomial is related to the Heegner number , and there are analogous polynomials for (the lucky numbers of Euler), corresponding to other Heegner numbers.
Given a positive integer S, there may be infinitely many c such that the expression n2 + n + c is always coprime to S. c may be negative, in which case there is a delay before primes are produced.
It is known, based on Dirichlet's theorem on arithmetic progressions, that linear polynomial functions produce infinitely many primes as long as a and b are relatively prime (though no such function will assume prime values for all values of n). Moreover, the Green–Tao theorem says that for any k there exists a pair of a and b with the property that is prime for any n from 0 through k − 1. However, the best known result of such type is for k = 26:
is prime for all n from 0 through 25. It is not even known whether there exists a univariate polynomial of degree at least 2 that assumes an infinite number of values that are prime; see Bunyakovsky conjecture.
A possible formula using a recurrence relation
Another prime generator is defined by the recurrence relation
where gcd(x, y) denotes the greatest common divisor of x and y. The sequence of differences an + 1 − an starts with 1, 1, 1, 5, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 11, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 23, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 47, 3, 1, 5, 3, ... (sequence A132199 in the OEIS). Rowland (2008) proved that this sequence contains only ones and prime numbers. However, it does not contain all the prime numbers, since the terms are always odd and so never equal to 2. Nevertheless, in the same paper it was conjectured to contain all odd primes, even though it is rather inefficient (587 is the smallest odd prime not appearing in the first 10,000 terms that are different from 1).
Note that there is a trivial program that enumerates all and only the prime numbers, as well as more efficient ones, and so such recurrence relations are more a matter of curiosity than of any practical use.
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