In Douglas Adams' science-fiction series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, two programmers ask the galaxy's largest supercomputer to answer the ultimate question about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. After 7.5 million years of processing, the computer comes to the answer: 42. Only then did the programmers realize that no one knew the question the program was intended to answer.
Now, in this most satisfying example of a life reflecting art, this week a pair of mathematicians used a global network of 500,000 computers to solve a centuries-old mathematical puzzle that simply consists of the most decisive number: 42.  The question, which goes back to at least until 1
This deceptively simple stork is known as the Diophantine equation named for the ancient mathematician Diophantus of Alexandria, who proposed a similar set of problems about 1800 years ago. Modern mathematicians who revisited the puzzle in the 1950s quickly found solutions when k equaled many of the smaller numbers, but a few particularly stubborn integers soon emerged. The two hardest numbers, which still had exceptional solutions until early 2019, were 33 and – you guessed it – 42.
In April, mathematician Andrew Booker of the University of Bristol in England rejected 33 from the list. Using a computer algorithm to search for solutions to the Diophantine equation with values of x, y, and z including any number between positive and negative 99 quadrillion, Booker found the solution up to 33 after a few weeks of computational time. (As you can see the answer is super, super long.)
However, this exhaustive search has not found a solution for 42, which suggests that if there is an answer, some of the integers must be greater than 99 quadrillion. Calculating large values would take an insane amount of processing power; so, for his next experience, Booker engaged with the help of mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Andrew Sutherland, who helped Booker book some time with a worldwide computer network called the Charity Engine.
According to a statement from the University of Bristol, this network is a "global computer" that borrows idle power from more than 500,000 home computers worldwide. Using this multi-computer supercomputer and 1 million hours of processing time, Booker and Sutherland finally found the answer to the Diophantine equation, where k equals 42.
So, without further adoration, the question and answer to the meaning of life , The universe and everything is:
(- 80538738812075974) ^ 3 + (80435758145817515) ^ 3 + (12602123297335631) ^ 3 = 42
How are you feeling? The glorious thing? Huge? Like your brain is going to vomit a little? Just be grateful that, unlike Adams' search for truth, the entire Earth has not been destroyed in the process.
Originally published in Live Science.