top ten coolest numbers

This is an attempt to give a count-down of the top ten coolest numbers. Let’s first admit that this is a highly subjective ordering–one person’s 14.38 is another’s π26. The astute (or probably simply “awake”) reader will notice, for example, a definite bias toward numbers interesting to a number theorist in the below list. (On the other hand, who better to gauge the coolness of numbers than a number-theorist…) But who knows? Maybe I can be convinced that I’ve left something out, or that my ordering should be switched in some cases. But let’s first set down some ground rules.

What’s in the list? What makes a number cool? I think a word that sums up the key characteristicPlanetmathPlanetmath of cool numbers is “canonicity”. Numbers that appear in this list should be somehow fundamental to the nature of mathematics. They could represent a fundamental fact or theoremMathworldPlanetmath of mathematics, be the first instance of an amazing class of numbers, be omnipresent in modern mathematics, or simply have an eerily long list of interesting properties. Perhaps a more appropriate question to ask is the following:

What’s not in the list? There are some really awesome numbers that I didn’t include in the list. I’ll go through several examples to get a feel for what sorts of numbers don’t fit the characteristics mentioned above.

Shocking as it may seem, I first disqualify the constants appearing in Euler’s formulaMathworldPlanetmath eiπ+1=0. This was a tough decision. Perhaps these five (e, i, π, 1, and 0) belong at the top of the list, or perhaps they’re just too fundamentally important to be considered exceptionally cool. Or maybe they’re just so cliché’d that we’ll get a significantly more interesting list by excluding them.

Also disqualified are numbers whose primary significance is cultural, rather than mathematical: despite being the answer to life, the universePlanetmathPlanetmath, and everything, 42 is a comparatively uninteresting number. Similarly not included in the list were 876-5309, 666, and the first illegal prime number. Similarly disqualified were constants of nature like Newton’s g and G, the fine structure constant, Avogadro’s number, etc.

Finally, I disqualified number that were highly non-canonical in construction. For example, the prime constant and Champoleon’s constant are both mathematically interesting, but only because they were, at least in an admittedly vague sense, constructed to be as such. Also along these lines are numbers like G63 and Skewe’s constant, which while mathematically interesting because of roles they’ve played in proofs, are not inherently interesting in and of themselves.

That said, I felt free to ignore any of these disqualifications when I felt like it. I hope you enjoy the following list, and I welcome feedback.

Honorable Mentions

  • 65,537 - This number is arguably the number with the most potential. It’s currently the largest Fermat primeMathworldPlanetmath known. If it turns out to be the largest Fermat prime, it might earn itself a place on the list, by virtue of thus also being the largest odd value of n for which an n-gon is constructible using only a rule and compass.

  • Conway’s constant - The construction of the number can be found here Though this number has some remarkable properties (not the least of which is being unexpectedly algebraic), it’s completely non-canonical construction kept it from overtaking any of our list’s current members.

  • 1728 and 1729 - This pair just didn’t have quite enough going for them to make it. 1728 is an important j-invariant of elliptic curves and modular formsMathworldPlanetmath, and is a perfectPlanetmathPlanetmath cube. 1729 happens to be the third Carmichael numberMathworldPlanetmath, but the primary motivation for including 1729 is because of the mathematical folklore associated it to being the first taxicab numberMathworldPlanetmath, making it more interesting (math-)historically than mathematically.

  • 28 - Aside from being a perfect number, a fairly interesting fact in and of itself, the number 28 has some extra interesting “aliquot” properties that propels it beyond other perfect numbers. Specifically, the largest known collectionMathworldPlanetmath of sociable numbers has cardinality 28, and though this might seem a silly feat in and of itself, the fact that sociable numbers and perfect numbers are so closely related may reveal something slightly more profound about 28 than it just being perfect.

  • 26 - being the only number between a square and a cube is pretty cool; as well as that to Actuaries, this number has relavance to life expectancy - in than it is a turning point. (this will change over time as is just a tenuous arguement to support giving 26 a mention!).

And now, on to the top 10:

#10) The Golden RatioMathworldPlanetmath, ϕ
This was a tough one. Yes, it’s cool that it satisfies the property that its reciprocal is one less than it, but this merely reflects that it’s a root of the wholly generic polynomial x2-x-1=0. Yes, it’s cool that it may have an aesthetic quality revered by the Greeks, but this is void from consideration for being non-mathematical. Only slightly less canonical is that it gives the limiting ratio of subsequent Fibonacci numbersDlmfMathworldPlanetmath. Redeeming it, however, is that this generalizes to all “Fibonacci-like” sequencesMathworldPlanetmath, and is the solution to two sort of canonical operationsMathworldPlanetmath:




Also, this number plays an important role in the hstory of algebraic number theoryMathworldPlanetmath. The field it generates is the first known example of a field in which unique factorization fails. Trying to come to grips with this fact led to the invention of ideal theory, class nubers, etc.

#9) 691
The prime numberMathworldPlanetmath 691 made it on here for a couple of reasons: First, it’s prime, but more importantly, it’s the first example of an irregular prime, a class of primes of immense importance in algebraic number theory. (A word of caution: it’s not the smallest irregular prime, but it’s the one that corresponds to the earliest Bernoulli numberDlmfDlmfMathworldPlanetmathPlanetmath, B12, so 691 is only “first” in that sense). It also shows up as a coefficient of every non-constant term in the q-expansion of the modular form E12(z). Further testimony to the arithmeticPlanetmathPlanetmath significance is its seemingly magical appearance in the algebraic K-theory: It’s known that K22() surjects onto 691.

#8) 78,557
The number 78,557 is here to represent an amazing class of numbers called Sierpinski numbers, defined to be numbers k such that k2n+1 is composite for every n1. That such numbers exist is flabbergasting…we know from Dirichlet’s theorem that primes occur infinitely often in non-trivial arithmetic sequences. Though the sequence formed by 785572n+1 isn’t arithmetic, it certainly doesn’t behave multiplicatively either, and there’s no apparent reason why there shouldn’t be a large (or infiniteMathworldPlanetmathPlanetmath) number of primes in every such sequence. This notwithstanding, Sierpinski’s composite number theorem proves there are in fact infinitely many odd such numbers k. As a small disclaimer, though it’s proven that 78,557 is indeed a Sierpinski number, it is not quite yet known that it is the smallest. There are 17 positive integers smaller than 78,557 not yet known to be non-Sierpinski.

#7) π26
Perhaps the first striking this about this number is that it is the sum of the reciprocals of the positive integer squares:


Though the choice of 2 here for the exponentMathworldPlanetmath is somewhat non-canonical (i.e. we’ve just noted that ζ(2)=π26, where ζ stands for the Riemann zeta functionDlmfDlmfMathworldPlanetmath), and that this is largely interesting for math-historical reasons (it was the first sum of this type that Euler computed), we can at least include it here to represent the amazing array of numbers of the form ζ(n) for n a positive integer. This class of numbers incorporates two amazing and seemingly disparate collections, depending on whether n is even (in which case ζ(n) is known to be a rational multipleMathworldPlanetmathPlanetmath of πn) or odd (in which case extremely little is known, even for ζ(3).

Further, there’s something slightly more canonical about the fact that its reciprocal, 6π2, gives the “probability” (in a suitably-defined sense) that two randomly chosen positive integers are relatively prime.

#6) Feigenbaum’s constant
- This is the entry on this the list with which I have the least familiarity. The one thing going for it is that it seems to be highly canonical, representing the limiting ratio of distance between bifurcation intervals for a fairly large class of one-dimensional maps. In other words, all maps that fall in to this category will bifurcate at the same rate, giving us a glimpse of order in the realm of chaotic systems.

#5) 2
This number caused quite a bit of controversy in discussions leading up to the construction of this list. The question here is canonicality. The first argumentPlanetmathPlanetmath of “It’s the only even prime” is merely a re-wording of “It’s the only prime divisible by 2,” which could uniquely characterizes any prime (e.g. 5 is the only prime divisible by 5, etc.). Of debatable canonicality is the immensely prevalent notion of “working in binary.” To a computer scientist, this may seem extremely canonical, but to a mathematician, it may simply be an (not quite) arbitrary choice of a finite fieldMathworldPlanetmath over which to work.

Yet 2 has some remarkable features even ignoring aspects relating to its primality. For instance, the somewhat canonical field of real numbers has index 2 in its algebraic closureMathworldPlanetmath . The factor 2πi is prevalent enough in complex and Fourier analysis that I’ve heard people lament that π should have been defined to be twice its current value. It’s also the only prime number p such that xp+yp=zp has any rational solutions.

Finally, if nothing else, it is certainly the first prime, and could at least be included for being the first representative of such an amazing class of numbers.

#4) 808017424794512875886459904961710757005754368×109

The above integer is the size of the monster group, the largest of the sporadic groups. This gives it a relatively high degree of canonicality. It’s unclear (at least to me) why there should be any sporadic groups, or why, given that they exist, there should only be finitely many. Since there is, however, there must be something fairly special about the largest possible one.

Also contributing to this number’s rank on this list is the remarkable properties of the monster group itself, which has been realized (actually, was constructed as) a group of rotations in 196,883-dimensional space, representing in some sense a limit to the amount of symmetryPlanetmathPlanetmath such a space can possess.

#3) Euler-Mascheroni Constant, γ
One of the most amazing facts from elementary calculus is that the harmonic seriesMathworldPlanetmath divergesPlanetmathPlanetmath, but that if you put an exponent on the denominators even just a hair above 1, the result is a convergent sequence. A refined statement says that the partial sums of the harmonic series grow like ln(n), and a further refinement says that the error of this approximation approaches our constant:


This seems to represent something fundamental about the harmonic series, and thus of the integers themselves.

Finally, perhaps due to importance inherited from the crucially important harmonic series, the Euler-Mascheroni constant appears magically all over mathematics.

#2) Khinchin’s constant, K2.685452
For a real number x, we define a geometric mean functionMathworldPlanetmath


where the ai are the terms of the simple continued fractionMathworldPlanetmath expansion of x. By nothing short of a miracle of mathematics, this function of x is almost everywhere (i.e. everywhere except for a set of measure 0) independent of x!!! In other words, except for a “small” number of exceptions, this function f(x) always outputs the same value, which is called Khinchin’s constant and is denoted by K. It’s hard to impress upon a casual reader just how astounding this is, but consider the following: Any infinite collection of non-negative integers a0,a1, forms a continued fractionDlmfMathworld, and indeed each continued fraction gives an infinite collection of that form. That the partial geometric means of these sequences is almost everywhere constant tells us a great deal about the distribution of sequences showing up as continued fraction sequences, in turn revealing something very fundamental about the structureMathworldPlanetmath of real numbers.

#1) 163
Well, we’ve come down to it, this author’s humble opinion of the coolest number in existence. Though an unlikely candidate, I hope to show you that 163 satisfies so many eerily related properties as to earn this title.

I’ll begin with something that most number theorists already know about this number – it is the largest value of d such that the number fieldMathworldPlanetmath (-d) has class numberMathworldPlanetmathPlanetmath 1, meaning that its ring of integers is a unique factorization domain. The issue of factorization in quadratic fields, and of number fields in general, is one of the principal driving forces of algebraic number theory, and to be able to pinpoint the end of perfect factorization in the quadratic case like this seems at least arguably fundamental.

But even if you don’t care about factorization in number fields, the above fact has some amazing repercussions to more basic number theoryMathworldPlanetmathPlanetmath. The two following facts in particular jump out:

  • eπ163 is within 10-12 of an integer.

  • The polynomial f(x)=x2+x+41 has the property that for integers 1x41, f(x) is prime.

Both of these are tied intimately (the former using deep properties of the j-function, the latter using relatively simple arguments concerning the splitting of primes in number fields) to the above quadratic imaginary number field having class number 1. Further, since (-d) is the last such field, the two listed properties are in some sense the best possible.

Most striking to me, however, is the amazing frequency with which 163 shows up in a wide varietyMathworldPlanetmathPlanetmath of class number problems. In additionPlanetmathPlanetmath to being the last value of d such that (-d) has class number 1, it is the first value of p such that (ζp+ζp-1) (the maximal real subfieldMathworldPlanetmath of the p-th cyclotomic fieldMathworldPlanetmath) has class number greater than 1. That 163 appears as the last instance of a quadratic field having unique factorization, and the first instance of a real cyclotomic field not having unique factorization, seems too remarkable to be coincidental. This is (maybe) further substantiated by a couple of other factoids

  • Hasse asked for an example of a prime and an extensionPlanetmathPlanetmathPlanetmathPlanetmath such that the prime splits completely into divisors which do not lie in a cyclic subgroup of the class group. The first such example is any prime less than 163 which splits completely in the cubic field generated by the polynomial x3=11x2+14x+1. This field has discriminantPlanetmathPlanetmathPlanetmath 1632. (See Shanks’ The Simplest Cubic Fields).

  • The maximal conductorPlanetmathPlanetmath if an imaginaryPlanetmathPlanetmath abelian number field of class number 1 corresponds to the field (-67,-163), which has conductor 10921=67*163.

It is unclear whether or not these additional arithmetical properties reflect deeper properties of the j-function or other modular forms, and remains a wide open field of study.

Originally posted on mclemanCam’s homepage

Title top ten coolest numbers
Canonical name TopTenCoolestNumbers
Date of creation 2013-03-22 15:38:03
Last modified on 2013-03-22 15:38:03
Owner rspuzio (6075)
Last modified by rspuzio (6075)
Numerical id 17
Author rspuzio (6075)
Entry type Feature
Classification msc 00A08