What’s the Biggest Number?

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David M. Schwartz
The amazing, engaging, math exponent. 

Picture Can you put into words what these equations are telling you?

     Think of a big number. How about one million? It’s a thousand thousand. That’s a lot. If you counted nonstop to a million, it would take you about 23 days. 
 
      A million is small compared to a billion, which is a thousand million. Want to count that high? You’ll be at it for 95 years. But a trillion makes a billion look puny. A trillion is a thousand billion (or a million million). Counting that high would take you 200,000 years. Have fun!

     Of course trillion is not the biggest number. There’s quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion, septillion, octillion, nonillion, decillion and more. Each is a thousand of the previous one. There’s even a humongous number called vigintillion, a one with 63 zeros. 

     But vigintillion is a shrimp compared to a googol.  Googol? Notice how it’s spelled: G-O-O-G-O-L, not G-O-O-G-L-E. The number googol is a one with a hundred zeros. It got its name from a nine-year old boy. A googol is more than all the hairs in the world. It’s more than all the grass blades and all the grains of sand. It’s even more than the number of atoms in the universe. Astrophysicists estimate the number of atoms to be a one with 82 zeros. You’d need to add 18 more zeros to get to a googol.

     Incidentally, a few years ago, the two men who had invented a powerful new internet search engine decided to name their website and company for the gigantic number googol. But they spelled it wrong. That’s why the company Google is spelled with an L-E. But the number googol is still spelled with an O-L.

     Googol is so large that it’s practically useless, but the boy who named it came up with a name for an even bigger number, “googolplex.” A googolplex is a one with a googol zeros. There isn’t enough ink in all the pens of the world to write that many zeros but feel free to give it a try.

     So is googolplex is the biggest number? What about a googolplex and one? Two googolplex? A googolplex googolplex? Any number you say, I can say one bigger. 

     I hear you asking, “What about infinity? Isn’t that the biggest number?” Sorry, but infinity isn’t a number. A number specifies an amount and infinity is no amount. It means “goes on and on forever.” 

     And that’s what numbers do. They go on and on forever. Infinity is not a number but numbers are infinite.



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Think you’re too old for an alphabet book?  You’ll think again if you check out a sampling from David M. Schwartz’s: B is for Binary, F is for Fibonacci, P is for Probability… You can see that this is an ABC book unlike any other.  For more information, click here.  

David Schwartz is a member of iNK’s Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom,  a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam.  Click here to find out more


MLA 8 Citation
Schwartz, David M. “What’s the Biggest Number?” Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 1 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Whats-the-Biggest-Number. 

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