When is 2 About the Same as 70 Million?

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A “twin prime” is a pair of prime numbers that differ by two. For example, 11 and 13, or 857 and 859. The “twin prime conjecture” states that there are an infinite number of twin primes. To this day, nobody has ever been able to prove this. It’s one of the great open conjectures of number theory.

Recently, however, an unknown mathematician proved a theorem that, according to the experts, is almost the same thing. It turns out that there are an infinite number of prime pairs that differ by some number N. And what is N? We still don’t know, but Yitang Zhang of the University of New Hampshire has demonstrated that it’s less than 70 million.

This is why I love number theory. I mean, what’s a difference of 69,999,998 between friends? Also this:

Without communicating with the field’s experts, Zhang started thinking about the problem. After three years, however, he had made no progress. “I was so tired,” he said. To take a break, Zhang visited a friend in Colorado last summer. There, on July 3, during a half-hour lull in his friend’s backyard before leaving for a concert, the solution suddenly came to him. “I immediately realized that it would work,” he said.

Isn’t that just perfect?

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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