## On Big Numbers

We live in an age where lots of stuff is referred to in terms of millions, billions and trillions, not to mention megas, gigas, and teras, and it occurs to me that many people don't realize the immensity of such numbers. Totally understandable - we deal in cars and houses that cost thousands of dollars. We walk out of the grocery store after plunking down a couple of hundred dollars. We might pay seventy-five dollars, maybe even a couple hundred for a pair of shoes. This realm doesn't prepare us very well for dealing in astronomical number schemes.

Let's start stacking up numbers in jumps of 1,000. . .or multiples thereof.

One thousand is pretty easy.

Write it out as 1,000

It equals ten times ten times ten (10 x 10 x 10)

In scientific notation, the cube of ten is 1x10 to the third power - 1x10^3 (A one with three zeros

You can count to one thousand in about seventeen minutes.

You can drive a thousand miles at 55MPH in about eighteen hours.

Take the now-seemingly paltry sum of "one million".

Write it out numerically, and it's 1,000,000.

It equals one thousand time one thousand.

In scientific notation, it's 1x10 to the 6th power -1x10^6. (A one with six zeros)

Or (10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10)

If someone gave you a million dollars, you could actually count it, given enough time. Counting one dollar a second, twenty-four hours a day - sorry, no time off to eat, sleep go to the bathroom or even a movie - it would take you twelve days to count your money. If you want to take it easy, and only work eight hours a day - you are, after all, a millionaire now, you could get the job done in 36 days. To drive a million miles at 55 MPH will take you about two years, non-stop. So far, so good.

Now, lets try the same thing for a one billion dollars.

Numerically, we're up to 1,000,000,000.

It equals one thousand times one million.

Or, one thousand times one thousand times one thousand again.

(10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10)

In scientific notation, it's 1x10 to the 9th power - 1x10^9. (A one with nine zeros)

Counting one dollar a second with no time off, it will take you 32 years to count your billion dollars. Counting eight hour days will take it up to 96 years. Your billion mile drive will take you about two thousand years. Dad! Are we there yet?

The next step is trillions of dollars.

It's getting a bit awkward to write numerically - 1,000,000,000,000 - probably won't even fit on that little line in your checkbook.

It equals one thousand thousand thousand thousand.

We're up to 1x10 to the twelfth power - 1x10^12 (A one with twelve zeros)

(10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10)

If you're going to count a trillion dollars, get a comfortable chair and a big bag of Doritos, you're going to be counting 24 hours a day for 32,000 years.

As a point of reference, there hasn't been civilization on the Earth for anywhere near 32,000 years. Don't even think about the drive - a two million year road trip is beyond my ability to imagine.

You've got waaay more money than you'll ever need, now. You ought to think about sharing some of that filthy lucre with the less fortunate - like me, for instance.

Try this one - 1,000,000,000,000,000

Now it's one thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand.

1x10 to the fifteenth power - 1x10^15 (A one with fifteen zeros)

(10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10)

We've entered the realm of the ridiculous - it would take you

Keep adding exponents and you'll wind up with "quintillions" - one with eighteen zeros, "sextillions" - one with twenty-one zeros, "septillions" - one with twenty four zeros, "octillions" - one with twenty-seven zeros, "nonillions" - one with thirty zeros, and "decillions" - one with thirty-three zeros.

As a point of reference, the Earth has a mass of roughly six octilion grams - 6x10^27g

Ha! Made you look! Any likely candidate for the largest number can always be increased by simply adding "one". When I was in Junior High School, I was introduced to the concept of the googol - someone obviously ran out of "illions". The googol is the number 1 followed by one hundred zeros - 1x10^100 - it looks like this:

For what it's worth, the actual name for a googol in American nomenclature is

You can use the googol as a convenient jumping-off point to start counting again - just add one. But there is really no reason to - you can use the googol as an exponent and create a "googolplex" - one times ten to to the googol power - 1x10^googol. I can't show you what it looks like - a piece of paper large enough to write a googolplex would be larger than the known universe.

*The late Dr. Carl Sagan, who, along with Isaac Asimov, was one of the best science explainers on this, or any other planet, provided much of this information in his PBS Series, "Cosmos", numerous magazine articles; and books, such as "Billions and Billions - Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium" (his last book, by the way - an intriguing treatise on science, mathematics, religion, morality, politics, ethics, ecology and raw courage.)

Let's start stacking up numbers in jumps of 1,000. . .or multiples thereof.

**THOUSANDS**One thousand is pretty easy.

Write it out as 1,000

It equals ten times ten times ten (10 x 10 x 10)

In scientific notation, the cube of ten is 1x10 to the third power - 1x10^3 (A one with three zeros

You can count to one thousand in about seventeen minutes.

You can drive a thousand miles at 55MPH in about eighteen hours.

**MILLIONS**Take the now-seemingly paltry sum of "one million".

Write it out numerically, and it's 1,000,000.

It equals one thousand time one thousand.

In scientific notation, it's 1x10 to the 6th power -1x10^6. (A one with six zeros)

Or (10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10)

If someone gave you a million dollars, you could actually count it, given enough time. Counting one dollar a second, twenty-four hours a day - sorry, no time off to eat, sleep go to the bathroom or even a movie - it would take you twelve days to count your money. If you want to take it easy, and only work eight hours a day - you are, after all, a millionaire now, you could get the job done in 36 days. To drive a million miles at 55 MPH will take you about two years, non-stop. So far, so good.

**BILLIONS**Now, lets try the same thing for a one billion dollars.

Numerically, we're up to 1,000,000,000.

It equals one thousand times one million.

Or, one thousand times one thousand times one thousand again.

(10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10)

In scientific notation, it's 1x10 to the 9th power - 1x10^9. (A one with nine zeros)

Counting one dollar a second with no time off, it will take you 32 years to count your billion dollars. Counting eight hour days will take it up to 96 years. Your billion mile drive will take you about two thousand years. Dad! Are we there yet?

**TRILLIONS**The next step is trillions of dollars.

It's getting a bit awkward to write numerically - 1,000,000,000,000 - probably won't even fit on that little line in your checkbook.

It equals one thousand thousand thousand thousand.

We're up to 1x10 to the twelfth power - 1x10^12 (A one with twelve zeros)

(10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10)

If you're going to count a trillion dollars, get a comfortable chair and a big bag of Doritos, you're going to be counting 24 hours a day for 32,000 years.

As a point of reference, there hasn't been civilization on the Earth for anywhere near 32,000 years. Don't even think about the drive - a two million year road trip is beyond my ability to imagine.

**QUADRILLIONS**You've got waaay more money than you'll ever need, now. You ought to think about sharing some of that filthy lucre with the less fortunate - like me, for instance.

Try this one - 1,000,000,000,000,000

Now it's one thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand.

1x10 to the fifteenth power - 1x10^15 (A one with fifteen zeros)

(10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10)

We've entered the realm of the ridiculous - it would take you

**32 MILLION YEARS**to count a quadrillion - way longer than there have been humans on the Earth, but only half the time back toward the extinction of the dinosaurs.**AND SO ON**Keep adding exponents and you'll wind up with "quintillions" - one with eighteen zeros, "sextillions" - one with twenty-one zeros, "septillions" - one with twenty four zeros, "octillions" - one with twenty-seven zeros, "nonillions" - one with thirty zeros, and "decillions" - one with thirty-three zeros.

As a point of reference, the Earth has a mass of roughly six octilion grams - 6x10^27g

**THE LARGEST NUMBER**Ha! Made you look! Any likely candidate for the largest number can always be increased by simply adding "one". When I was in Junior High School, I was introduced to the concept of the googol - someone obviously ran out of "illions". The googol is the number 1 followed by one hundred zeros - 1x10^100 - it looks like this:

**10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000**For what it's worth, the actual name for a googol in American nomenclature is

**"ten duotrigintillion"**.You can use the googol as a convenient jumping-off point to start counting again - just add one. But there is really no reason to - you can use the googol as an exponent and create a "googolplex" - one times ten to to the googol power - 1x10^googol. I can't show you what it looks like - a piece of paper large enough to write a googolplex would be larger than the known universe.

*"The googolplex, however, cannot be written out -- literally cannot. It is a 1 followed by a googol zeros, and this website will not hold as many as a googol zeros, no matter how small, within reason, those zeros are printed. In fact, you could not write the number on the entire surface of the earth if you made each zero no larger than an atom. In fact, if you represented each zero by a nucleon, there wouldn't be enough nucleons in the entire known universe***or in a trillion like it**to supply you with sufficient zeroes."*--Isaac Asimov, T-Formation, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fact, Aug 1963**[reprinted in the collection of essays Asimov On Numbers, pg 45]***SLEEP WELL!***The late Dr. Carl Sagan, who, along with Isaac Asimov, was one of the best science explainers on this, or any other planet, provided much of this information in his PBS Series, "Cosmos", numerous magazine articles; and books, such as "Billions and Billions - Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium" (his last book, by the way - an intriguing treatise on science, mathematics, religion, morality, politics, ethics, ecology and raw courage.)