Some Tricks to Help People Understand Very Large Numbers (2024)

Have you ever wondered what number comes after a trillion? Or how many zeros there are in a vigintillion? ​Some day you might need to know this for a science or math class, or if you happen to enter one of several mathematical or scientific fields.

Understanding big numbers is important because they provide critical insights into the scale and magnitude of various phenomena. In fields like astronomy, where distances between celestial bodies are vast, or in quantum physics, where particle sizes are incredibly small, comprehending large and small numbers is crucial.

Numbers Bigger Than a Trillion

The digit zero plays an important role as youcount very large numbers. It helps totrack these multiples of 10because the larger the number is, the more zeros are needed.

NameNumber of ZerosGroups of Three Zeros
Ten10
Hundred20
Thousand31 (1,000)
Ten thousand41 (10,000)
Hundred thousand51 (100,000)
Million62 (1,000,000)
Billion93(1,000,000,000)
Trillion124 (1,000,000,000,000)
Quadrillion155
Quintillion186
Sextillion217
Septillion248
Octillion279
Nonillion3010
Decillion3311
Undecillion3612
Duodecillion3913
Tredecillion4214
Quattuordecillion4515
Quindecillion4816
Sexdecillion5117
Septen-decillion5418
Octodecillion5719
Novemdecillion6020
Vigintillion6321
Centillion303101

Grouping Zeros by Threes

Manypeoplefind it easy to understand that the number 10 has one zero, 100 has two zeros, and 1,000 has three zeros. These numbers are used all the time in daily living, whether it is dealing with money or counting something as simple as our music playlist or the mileage on our cars.

When you get to million, billion, and trillion, things become a little more complicated. How many zeros come after the one in a trillion? It's hard to keep track of that and count each zero, sothese long numbershave been broken down into groups of three zeros.

For example, it's much easier to remember that a trillion is written with four sets of three zeros than it is to count out 12 separate zeros. While you might think that one's pretty simple, just wait until you have to count 27 zeros for an octillion or 303 zeros for a centillion. Then you will be thankful that you only have to remember nine and 101 sets of three zeros, respectively.

Powers of 10 Shortcut

In mathematicsand science, youcan rely on the "powers of 10" to quickly express exactly how many zeros are needed for these larger numbers. For example, a shortcut for writing out a trillion is 1012(10 to the power of 12). The 12 indicates that the numberneeds a total of 12 zeros.

You can see how much easier these are to read than if there were just a bunch of zeros:

Quintillion = 1018 or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000
Decillion = 1033or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

The Enormous Numbers: Googol and Googolplex

You are probably very familiar with the search engine and tech company Google. Did you know that the name was inspired by another very large number? Though the spelling is different, thegoogoland thegoogolplexplayed a role in the naming of the tech giant.

A googol has 100 zeros and is expressed as 10100. It is often used to express any large quantity, even though it is a quantifiable number. It makes sense that the largest search engine that pulls a large quantity of data from the internet would find this word useful.

The term googol was coined by the American mathematician Edward Kasner in his 1940 book, "Mathematics and the Imagination." The story goes that Kasner asked his then 9-year-old nephew, Milton Sirotta, what to name this ridiculously long number. Sirotta came up withgoogol.

But why is a googol important if it's actually less than a centillion? Quite simply, agoogol is used to define agoogolplex.A googolplex is 10 to the power of googol, a number that boggles the mind. In fact, a googolplex is so large that there's really no known use for it. Some say that it even exceeds the total number of atoms in the universe.

The googolplex is not even the largest number defined to date. Mathematiciansand scientists have also devised "Graham's number" and "Skewes number." Both of these require a math degree to even begin to understand.

Short and Long Scales of a Billion

If you think the concept of a googolplex is tricky, some people cannot even agree on what defines a billion. In the U.S. and most of the world, it is accepted that 1 billion equals 1,000 million. Itis written as 1,000,000,000 or 109. This number is used often in science and finance, and it is called the "short scale."

On the "long scale," 1 billion is equal to 1 million million. For this number, you will need a 1 followed by 12 zeros: 1,000,000,000,000 or 1012. The long scale was first described by Genevieve Guitel in 1975. It is used in France and, for a time, was accepted in the United Kingdom as well.

Very Big Numbers

Understanding big numbers helps us grasp the scale and magnitude of phenomena in fields like astronomy and quantum physics.

Large numbers are easier to manage by grouping zeros in sets of three and using powers of ten, such as writing one trillion as1012.

The concept of a googol and a googolplex illustrates the enormity of numbers that far exceed practical use. A googol has 100 zeros and a googolplex is 10googol.

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Fleming, Grace. "Understanding Very Big Numbers." ThoughtCo, May. 29, 2024, thoughtco.com/bigger-than-a-trillion-1857463.Fleming, Grace. (2024, May 29). Understanding Very Big Numbers. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/bigger-than-a-trillion-1857463Fleming, Grace. "Understanding Very Big Numbers." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/bigger-than-a-trillion-1857463 (accessed June 30, 2024).

Some Tricks to Help People Understand Very Large Numbers (2024)
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