Imagining large numbers

by David Radcliffe

One thousand

  • People: moderately sized school.
  • Dollars: price of a laptop computer.
  • Pounds: weight of a polar bear.
  • Miles: distance from St. Paul to Dallas.
  • Seconds: About 17 minutes.

One million

  • People: Population of San Jose, California. Participants in the  Million Man March.
  • Dollars: Cost of an expensive house or a CAT scanner.
  • Pounds: Maximum take-off weight of a 747.
  • Miles: Lifetime distance traveled by car (100 miles/day for 30 years).
  • Seconds: About 12 days.

One billion

  • People: Population of India.
  • Dollars: Net worth of JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books.
  • Pounds: The Golden GateBridge weighs about 2 billion pounds.
  • Miles: Distance to Saturn.
  • Seconds: About 32 years.

One trillion

  • People: The hypothetical populations of the world, if all land area on the globe were as densely populated as Hong Kong.
  • Dollars: Approximate cost of the Iraq war.
  • Pounds: World annual rice production.
  • Miles: One fifth of a light year.
  • Seconds: About 30,000 years. The earliest known cave paintings are about 30,000 years old.

One quadrillion

  • People: Number of ants in the world.
  • Dollars: Total world purchasing power for 15 years, at current levels of production.
  • Pounds: Total world coal reserves.
  • Miles: About 170 light years.
  • Seconds: About 30 million years.