On the Distribution of Mersenne Divisors

By Daniel Shanks and Sidney Kravitz

    The Mersenne numbers are those of the form Mp = 2p - 1 with p prime. The only possible divisors of Mp are those of the form 2kp + 1. Let fk(x) be the number of Mp with p < x that have a prime divisor d = 2kp + 1. As is known, it has not been proven, even for a single k, that
(1) fk(x) -> oo

as x -> oo. It is also known that
(2) fk(x) = 0 (k = 2, 6, 10, ... )

for all k of the form 4m + 2, but, with these values of k excluded, one expects, heuristically, that (1) is true for all other k = 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, .... We conjecture, in fact, a stronger result that includes both (1) for these allowed k, and (2) for those excluded:
(3) Equation 3

In (3) the product is taken over all odd prime q, if any, that divide k, and Zbar(x) is the well-known conjectured estimate for the number of twin-prime pairs < x:
(4) Equation 4
    In a recent note [1], one of us presented a table of fk(105) for k < 200. In Table 1 we present a table of fk(x) for

k <> 4m + 2 < 60,       x = 105(105)106.

The larger range of x here, and the sufficient range of k, enables us to make a significant test of (3). We find it convenient, however, to replace the Zbar(x) in (3) by the actual number of twins, Z(x), since these are simple integers which are in sufficiently good agreement with Zbar(x). Further, while such a change in (3) makes the infinitude of fk(x) depend upon that of Z(x), we do not regard this as a defect. On the contrary, it is highly likely that any proof of


could be readily adapted to prove
fk(x) -> oo (k <> 4m + 2)

also, and we prefer to emphasize this relationship.


Table 1

    In Table 2 we list the ratios:
(5) Equation 5

The counts Z(x) were taken from [2], and are repeated here in Table 3 for convenience.

    Table 2 suggests that our conjectures (3) are true for all k. The deviations from unity seen there are not excessive considering the limited value of x, and the rather small totals found in certain cases, e.g., f59(106) = 57. The deviation seen, in fact, no doubt are due mostly to fluctuation terms of approximate order O(sqrtx), since these temporarily dominate (at these values of x) the conjectured actual second term involving log (2k)/log x.


Table 2

    The heuristic argument for (3) is quite convincing, especially in view of previous successes for similiar arguments. A Hardy-Littlewood conjecture is
(6) Z(x) ~ Zbar(x),

and, similarly, cf. [3], the number of integers n < x such that n and 2kn + 1 are both prime should be asymptotic to
(7) Equation 7


x·10-5 Z(x)

    Now the factor
(8) Equation 8

for k = 1, 2, 3, or 4 (mod 4), respectively, and therefore represents the fraction of the primes 2kn + 1 which have 2 as a quadratic residue:
(9) Equation 9

Finally, for such a possible prime divisor 2kn + 1, we assume that 1/k is the probability that 2 is a (2k)ic residue of 2kn + 1, for if g is a primitive root of 2kn + 1, by (9) we have
g2s congruent to 2 (mod 2kn + 1)

for some s, and we assume, that the probability of 2k | 2s is 1/k. For these primes, n and 2kn + 1, we therefore have 2kn + 1 | 2n - 1.

    Combination of (7), (8), and (4) now yields (3).

    Now we wish to suggest two extensions of this work to others, since we think these to be of some importance, but are not satisfied with any efforts that we ourselves have made.

    (A) We note, first, that only the case k = 1 in (3) is a special case of the Bateman-Horn conjecture [3]. What generalization is needed to include other values of k? Consider first k = 3. As is known, any p = 6n + 1 can be written

p = 6n + 1 = a2 + 3b2,

but only those p where 3 | b have 2 as a cubic residue. By Landau's generalization of the prime number theorem to prime ideals, it follows that 3 | b occurs 1/3 of the time, asymptotically speaking. This verifies one case or our "assumption" above, namely, that the probability for k = 3 is 1/3.

    It is clear, then, that we wish a generalization of the Bateman-Horn conjecture [3], and also its extension by Schinzel [4], to include not only primes but also prime ideals. But we have not satisfied ourselves that we have obtained this with full generality and proper exactitude.

    (B) For no k has (3) been proven. Each such conjecture is essentially equivalent to the twin-prime conjecture (6), and, no doubt, will be proven when, and only when, (6) is proven. As is known, a much weaker conjecture has never been proven, namely, that there are infinitely many Mersenne composites. If (3) were true for even a single k, then there would be infinitely many composites.

    It seems to us that this weaker conjecture is provable, but we have not proved it. While (6) has not been proven, one can also examine the sequences

p,   p + 2k

collectively, for all k. This has been done by Lavrik [5], and results have been obtained there concerning "almost all" k. If the generalization suggested in (A) is carried out successfully, it seems to us that Lavrik's techniques applied to our (3) should suffice to prove that there are infinitely many Mersenne composites, and probably also stronger results concerning a lower bound on their number. Further, one would then also have an upper bound on the number of Mersenne primes.

David Taylor Model Basin
Washington, D.C. 20007

592 Herrick Drive
Dover, New Jersey 07801

    1. S. KRAVITZ, "Distribution of Mersenne divisors," Math. Comp., v. 20, 1966, pp. 448-449.
    2. F. GRUENBERGER & G. ARMERDING, Statistics on the First Six Million Prime Numbers, copy deposited in UMT file and reviewed in RMT 73, Math. Comp., v. 19, 1965, pp. 503-505.
    3. P. T. BATEMAN & R. A. HORN, "A heuristic asymptotic formula concerning the distribution of prime numbers," Math. Comp., v. 16, 1962, pp. 363-367. MR 26 #6139
    4. A. SCHINZEL, "A remark on a paper of Bateman and Horn," Math. Comp., v. 17, 1963, pp. 445-447. MR 27 #3609.
    5. A. F. LAVRIK, "On the twin prime hypothesis of the theory of primes by the method of I. M. Vinogradov," Dokl. Akad. Nauk SSSR, v. 132, 1960, pp. 1013-1015 = Soviet Math. Dokl., v. 1, 1960, pp. 700-702. MR 28 #1183.

    Received August 25, 1966.

Return to this paper's entry in Luke's Mersenne Library and Bibliography