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From my years of teaching introductory astronomy in community colleges, I estimate that:

85% of the adult American population does not realize
a billion is 1000 times as large as a million.

Millions and Billions*

I use a meter stick as "a picture of a thousand"

dogs.jpg (15578 bytes) dime.jpg (10412 bytes)
A meter stick is just under 40 inches long, a few inches longer than a yard stick.  A meter is a typical height for a 3-year old child, or about the size of two cocker spaniels. A millimeter (mm) is about the thickness of a dime.  The smallest marks on a meter stick are 1 mm apart.   There are 1,000 millimeters in a meter.


If  1 millimeter  is used to represent ANYTHING,
then  1 meter  represents ONE THOUSAND TIMES AS MUCH.

A kilometer is 1000 meters (a little over half a mile)

A kilometer is to a meter
a meter is to a millimeter

There are  1,000  millimeters in a meter; there are  1,000  meters  in a kilometer.
There are therefore 1 million millimeters in a kilometer.

A billion millimeters would be 1000 kilometers.

Our numbering system was not designed for easy visualization:

It was designed for easy computation!

(Adding a couple of zeros to a number doesn't make the number look much bigger,
but the numbers that the digits represent grow very quickly indeed!)

Adding a zero makes a number ten times bigger.

Adding three zeros makes a number 1000 times bigger.


Million ( = 1,000 thousands)
Billion ( = 1,000 millions)

Trillion ( = 1,000 billions)

The numbers, as written, look like stairsteps, and the names suggest a uniform sequence,

...but that is deceptive!

Each step represents a number 1,000 times bigger than the previous step.


Question: Counting by millions, what comes after a million?   Is it a billion?

Answer: NO.  After a million comes two million, then three million, then four million, etc.
It takes a thousand millions to make a billion.

The vertical scale of the L-Curve is based on the thickness of a $100 bill.

A $100 bill is 1/10 of a millimeter thick.  If you start stacking $100 bills, the size of the pile would be:

$1 Thousand
$100 Thousand
$1 Million
$1 Billion

=> 1 millimeter high
=> 100 millimeters ( = about 4 inches)
=> 1 meter high
=> 1 kilometer high


A bumper sticker I saw recently says,

5850Outraged.jpg (8375 bytes)

Another possibility is that you just may not understand the numbers.
Hopefully these pictures and word pictures will help.

*In long-standing British usage the word Billion is taken to mean a million millions (1 followed by 12 zeros).  A British reader of this site informs me, however, that this is no longer the case.  What Americans call a billion is 1000 millions (1 followed by 9 zeros).  Throughout this web site we mean Billion in the American sense of the word.

This site is designed and maintained by  David Chandler




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