Prime Numbers in Linear Patterns

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Prime numbers in table with 180 columns
Screen shot 2012-10-01 at 2.49.15 PM.png
Field: Number Theory
Image Created By: Iris Yoon

Prime numbers in table with 180 columns

Prime numbers marked in a table with 180 columns

Basic Description

Arranging natural numbers in a particular way and marking the prime numbers can lead to interesting patterns. For example, consider a table with 180 columns and infinitely many rows. Write positive integers in increasing order from left to right, and top to bottom. If we mark all the prime numbers, we get a pattern shown in the figure. We can see that prime numbers show patterns of vertical line segments, which implies that the prime numbers only appear on certain columns.

A More Mathematical Explanation

Instead of studying a table with 180 columns, we will study a table with 30 columns, as shown in [[#1 [...]

Instead of studying a table with 180 columns, we will study a table with 30 columns, as shown in Image 1.

Image 1


First, create a table with 30 columns and sufficiently many rows. Write all positive integers starting from 1 as one moves from left to right, and top to bottom. Then, each row will start with a multiple of 30 added by 1, such as 1, 31, 61, 91, 121, ... . If we mark the prime numbers in this table we get Image 2.

Image 2


Theorem 1. All prime numbers appear on columns that have a 1 or a prime number on its top row. In other words, for every prime number p , either  p \equiv 1\pmod {30}, or there exists a prime number  q less than 30 such that  p \equiv q \pmod {30} .


Given any prime number  p, assume that p is neither congruent to  1 \pmod {30} nor  q \pmod {30} for every prime  q less than  30. Then,

 p  \equiv x \pmod {30},

where  x is some integer less than 30 that is not  1 and not a prime. Prime factorization of  x must contain one of 2, 3, and 5. (If the prime factorization of x did not contain any of 2, 3, or  5, then the smallest possible value of  x will be 7 \cdot 7 =49 , which is greater than 30). Thus,


where  a,b,c \ge 0, and at least one of  a,b,c is greater than 0.

Since  p is congruent to  x, we can write p as  p=30n+2^a3^b5^c, where n is an integer greater than or equal to 1. Then,

p=30n+2^a3^b5^c=(2 \cdot 3 \cdot 5)n+2^a3^b5^c .

 p is then equal to one of  2(3 \cdot 5 \cdot n+2^{a-1}3^b5^c) or  3(2 \cdot 5 \cdot n+2^a3^{b-1}5^c) or 5(2 \cdot 3 \cdot n+2^a3^b5^{c-1}), which contradicts p being a prime number. Thus,  p \equiv 1 \pmod {30} or  p \equiv q \pmod {30} , for some prime number q less than 30. \Box

However, the statement does not generalize to other integer modulo groups. For instance, consider a table with 60 columns. The number 49 appears on the first row, and 49 is not a prime number. However, the column containing 49 will contain other prime numbers, such as 109.

Moreover, not all integers that are congruent to 1 \pmod {30} or  q \pmod {30}, where  q is a prime number less than 30, are prime numbers. For instance, 49, which is congruent to 19 \pmod {30} , is not a prime number, but 49 still appears on the same column as19. Let's call the columns that have a 1 or a prime number on its top row as prime-concentrated columns. One can observe that all composite numbers that appear on these prime-concentrated columns, say 49,77,91,119,121,133,143,161,169,..., have prime factors that are greater than or equal to 7. In other words, these composite numbers do not have 2, 3, or 5 as a prime factor.

Theorem 2. Composite numbers that appear on prime-concentrated columns do not have 2,3, or 5 as a prime factor.


Let  x be a composite number that appears on a prime-concentrated column, and assume that  x has at least one of 2, 3, or 5 as a prime factor. Since  x appears on the prime-concentrated column,  x can be written as

 x=30n+k ,

where  n is a positive integer, and  k =1or k is a prime number greater than 5 and smaller than 30. If  x had 2 as a prime factor,  k must also have 2 as a factor because 30 has 2 as a factor. This contradicts the fact that  k is equal to 1 or is a prime number between 7 and 30. The same argument works for the case when  x has 3 or 5 as prime factors. \Box

Another pattern to notice is that the prime-concentrated columns seem symmetric about the column that contains 15, which leads to the following observation.

Theorem 3. If  p is a prime number less than 30 and if  p is not equal to 2,3, or 5, then 30-p is a prime number.


Let  p be a prime number less than 30 that is not equal to 2, 3, or 5. Let  q=30-p . If  q were not a prime, then  q must have 2, 3, or 5 as a prime factor. Since  p=30-q ,  p will also be divisible by 2, 3, or 5, contradicting our condition that  p is a prime number.  \Box

One can also observe that each prime-concentrated column seems to contain infinitely many prime numbers. In fact, such observation is consistent with Dirichlet's Theorem in Arithmetic Progressions.

Dirichlet's Theorem On Primes In Arithmetic Progressions Let a,N be relatively prime integers. Then there are infinitely many prime numbers p such that p \equiv a \pmod {N} .

The proof of Dirichlet's Theorem is not written in this page. One easily note that Dirichlet's Theorem implies that each prime-concentrated column contains infinitely many prime numbers.

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Future Directions for this Page

Q: would it be possible to generalize the above statements to any subgroup of the integers modded by the product of first n primes?

i.e, can we generalize above statements to the case where we create a table with more number of columns?

If you are able, please consider adding to or editing this page!

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