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Extreme Numbers Get New Official Names

For the first time in more than 30 years, new terms have been officially added to the International System of Units (SI). The four new prefixes - ronna, quetta, ronto and quecto - describe very large and very small numbers that until now didn’t have their own names.

Random collection of numbers

For extreme numbers that don’t get used very often, the usual shorthand is scientific notation, where the superscript number describes how many zeroes there are. So 109, for example, represents 1,000,000,000, or 10-6 is 0.000001. While these might look fine in a scientific paper, they’re awkward in everyday conversation when you're casually sitting round the kitchen table discussing extreme numbers with your family. You don't?

As technology advances and extreme numbers become more routine, new prefixes are needed. In this case, the driver was data - currently the volume of data created and consumed worldwide is measured in zettabytes (1021), and beyond that there’s only one more named unit - the yottabyte, or 1024.

So, at the recent General Conference on Weights and Measures, global representatives voted to introduce four new prefixes to the SI. And kitchen tables around the world breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The number 1027 is now officially known as ronna and 1030 is now quetta, while 10-27 is ronto and 10-30 is quecto. This is in keeping with naming conventions that use prefixes ending in “a” for large numbers and “o” for small ones.

Graphic of the acronym: MAYONNAISE


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