Mertens conjecture

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The graph shows the Mertens function M(n) and the square roots ±√n for n≤10,000. After computing these values Mertens conjectured that the modulus of M(n) is always bounded by √n. This hypothesis, known as Mertens conjecture, was disproved in 1985 by Andrew Odlyzko and Herman te Riele

In mathematics, the Mertens conjecture is the incorrect statement that the Mertens function M(n) is bounded by √n, which implies the Riemann hypothesis. It was conjectured by Thomas Joannes Stieltjes in an 1885 letter to Charles Hermite (reprinted in Template:Harvnb) and Template:Harvs, and disproved by Template:Harvtxt. It is a striking example of a mathematical proof contradicting a large amount of computational evidence in favor of a conjecture.


In number theory, if we define the Mertens function as

where μ(k) is the Möbius function, then the Mertens conjecture is that for all n > 1,

Disproof of the conjecture

Stieltjes claimed in 1885 to have proven a weaker result, namely that was bounded, but did not publish a proof.[1] (In terms of , the Mertens conjecture is that .)

In 1985, Andrew Odlyzko and Herman te Riele conditionally proved the Mertens conjecture false: indeed, and .[2][3] It was later shown that the first counterexample appears below exp(3.21Template:E) (~101.39x10^64) (Pintz 1987) but above 1014 (Kotnik and Van de Lune 2004). The upper bound has since been lowered to exp(1.59Template:E) (Kotnik and Te Riele 2006), but no counterexample is explicitly known. The boundedness claim made by Stieltjes, while remarked upon as "very unlikely" in the 1985 paper cited above, has not been disproven (Template:As of). The law of the iterated logarithm states that if μ is replaced by a random sequence of 1s and −1s then the order of growth of the partial sum of the first n terms is (with probability 1) about (n log log n)1/2, which suggests that the order of growth of m(n) might be somewhere around (log log n)1/2. The actual order of growth may be somewhat smaller; it was conjectured by Steve Gonek in the early 1990s that the order of growth of m(n) was , which was also conjectured by Ng (2004), based on a heuristic argument assuming the Riemann hypothesis and certain conjectures about the averaged behavior of zeros of the Riemann zeta function.[4]

In 1979 Cohen and Dress found the largest known value of for M(7766842813) = 50286. In 2003 Kotnik and van de Lune extended the search to n = 1014 but did not find larger values. In 2006, Kotnik and te Riele improved the upper bound and showed that there are infinitely many values of n for which m(n)>1.2184, but without giving any specific value for such an n.[5]

Connection to the Riemann hypothesis

The connection to the Riemann hypothesis is based on the Dirichlet series for the reciprocal of the Riemann zeta function,

valid in the region . We can rewrite this as a Stieltjes integral

and after integrating by parts, obtain the reciprocal of the zeta function as a Mellin transform

Using the Mellin inversion theorem we now can express M in terms of 1/ζ as

which is valid for 1 < σ < 2, and valid for 1/2 < σ < 2 on the Riemann hypothesis. From this, the Mellin transform integral must be convergent, and hence M(x) must be O(xe) for every exponent e greater than 1/2. From this it follows that

for all positive ε is equivalent to the Riemann hypothesis, which therefore would have followed from the stronger Mertens hypothesis, and follows from the hypothesis of Stieltjes that



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  2. Odlyzko & te Riele (1985)
  3. Sandor et al (2006) pp.188–189
  4. Template:Cite web
  5. Kotnik & te Riele (2006)

Further reading

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  • T. Kotnik and J. van de Lune (2004), "On the order of the Mertens function", Experimental Mathematics 13, pp. 473–481
  • F. Mertens (1897), "Über eine zahlentheoretische Funktion", Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Klasse, Abteilung 2a, 106, pp. 761–830.
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  • J. Pintz (1987), "An effective disproof of the Mertens conjecture", Astérisque 147-148, pp. 325–333.
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Template:Disproved conjectures