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Big Numbers

This time we will take a look at some big numbers. In the study of science, you will run into all sorts of very large numbers, and it can get to be overwhelming.

You will need:

  • either a calculator of pencil and paper

WARNING! This experiment involves the use of MATH!
Numbers are powerful things, so use them with care.

Lets start with a few big numbers.

An average adult human has over 70,000 miles of blood vessels
The distance to the sun is about 93 million miles.
As I am writing this, the estimated world population is 6,781,208,863

When numbers get that big, they lose their meaning to most people. Most of us do not deal with millions of things, so it is very difficult to imagine what these numbers mean. To get a better grasp on the numbers, we need something that is small enough to let us deal with millions of them. We could try grains of rice or something like that, but for really big numbers, it just takes up too much space. For example, to get one million grains of rice, you would need just over 3 gallons of uncooked rice grains. That is a lot more rice than most people have around their house. Still, if you want a visual example of your odds at winning the Lottery, start with 3 gallons of rice. Mark one grain and then mix them well. Then close your eyes and pick out one grain. You have a better chance of picking the right grain of rice than you do picking winning the lottery number, which is why I don't play the lottery.

For really big numbers, we need something easier to work with. I have found that for many people, time works very well for this. A second is a length of time that is easy to grasp, and we all have experience with millions of them over our lives. Convert your big numbers into seconds, and you have an easy way to understand them.

Lets start with one million. It is a number that we use a lot, but still it is hard to get a good mental picture of it. Think about one million seconds. How long is that? One million divided by 60 gives us 16,666.67 minutes. That is 277.77 hours, or 11.5 days. Think about the past 11 and 1/2 days. Think about how many seconds have passed in that span of time. Now you should have a better understanding of the number.

What about the 70,000 miles of blood vessels? 70,000 seconds would be 19 hours, 26 minutes, and 40 seconds. For many people that makes it easier to really understand the number.

What about the 93 million miles to the sun? There are just over 31 million seconds in a year, so 93 million seconds would be three years. Think about the number of seconds in three years. This is a really big number. You can also approach it in a different way. If you were traveling one mile per second (3600 miles per hour), it would take you three years to travel the 93 million miles to the sun.

I'll let you figure out the time for the world population.

When you encounter large numbers, try to convert them into something that actually has a meaning to you, instead of just hearing a "big number." Seconds don't work for everyone. If they just don't make the numbers real for your, try using pennies, millimeters, or whatever works to make the numbers mean something. Just don't try to eat a million calories of ice cream, unless you are VERY hungry.