Giggety giggety gigapennies

Contributed by
Jan 12, 2009
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So how well do you grok big numbers?

I'm an astronomer, so I do OK. More importantly, I am a huge geek (bordering on dork) when it comes to numbers, and when I was a kid I would sit and memorize the names of the big exponents: decillion, nonillion, octillion (my favorite; I like the way it sounds).

But what do they really mean? How big are these numbers? Most of us have a hard time grasping anything past about 16, so a million is hard. The bailout is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and the national debt in the trillions. How much cash is that?

One million pennies.
Turns out, it's a lot. But it's hard to grasp, so you might want to take a look at a site called Megapenny. It's pretty cool, using simple but effective graphics, stepping you through stacks of pennies to represent big numbers. I was doing OK up to about a billion pennies, but then at 10 billion I started to freak out a little bit.

A billion is a big number.

And now maybe you'll have an idea of just how big. You see that picture? That's only a million pennies (plus change... literally). That's only ten grand's worth. Think you know how many a billion is? Guess first, then click through. You may be surprised.