British Units

Zillions megaConverter #18


Really BIG numbers are normally referred to as an exponential number such as 1.2x10 to the power of 60, but there are names for such numbers as well. These names are based on the latin prefixes for numbers with the body 'illion' tacked on afterwards. So, a decillion is the tenth in line from a million, because dec was the latin prefix for 10. (December was originally the tenth month, until calendar makers decided it made more sense to have twelve months and added two more.) By counting convention the break points occurred every third power of ten, so a million was 10 to the sixth, billion was ten to the ninth and so on. Undec- is the prefix for eleven and so forth.

In Britain and Germany prior to this century, their system had break points every ten to the sixth power, so their billion was actually ten to the twelfth power. They used the Milliard for what we know as a billion. Now, however, all countries use ten to the third as the break points in counting.

The googol was a term created by mathematicians to represent ten to the hundredth power. Here is a googol written out:
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.
A googolplex is sometimes used to refer to ten to the googol power. Most really big numbers (say, above a decillion.) don't really refer to anything measureable or practical, but they do have uses in mathematics and physics. The sun's mass is about 1.8 decillion grams. There are perhaps a googol of atoms in the universe. As we learn more about the universe, we are beginning to realize just how big it really is.

* Much of our written history still refers to things in common units. The Bible does not refer to meters or kilograms, but to cubits and stadia, or shekels and drachma. Wouldn't it be nice to know what they were talking about way back then? Now you can use megaConverter! For a more complete listing of ancient, foreign, and obsolete measures, download our 'megaSpreadsheet' of conversions in MS Excel format.