Have you ever stopped and pondered what a million actually is? Sure, you might easily pass it off as the number 1,000,000, or a thousand thousands, but have you really tried to get your head around how big a number that is? For example, you may be able to visualise a hundred people, a thousand people or even tens of thousands of people in your head, but it is very hard to visualise an image of a million people.
Now consider this. When was a million seconds ago? You know a second is very short and a million is a very large number. But it is difficult to put the two together. Make a guess. Last year? Two months ago? Surprisingly, the answer is only a week and a half ago (11.6 days).
Then what about a billion seconds? A billion is a thousand million so you might think it is easy to just add some zeroes, but a billion seconds is 31.7 years ago. Just by changing one syllable, or adding three zeroes, we went from a scale of weeks to years. If we go one step further to a trillion seconds, you leap back in time 31,700 years. You can probably remember what happened a million seconds ago, you might not have even been born a billion seconds ago and our ancestors were still hunter-gatherers roaming Europe a trillion seconds ago. That is how mind-blowing the scale of large numbers can be.
Now let’s look at some other things to really understand how big a million and a billion can be. A million dollars (USD) could buy you a luxury house, a manufacturing line, a 41-acre island in Belize or over 200 years’ worth of coffee (if you drank two cups a day). A million dollars in $1 bills would weigh 1000kg and stack to 30 stories high. A billion dollars – even if you were to convert it into $100 bills – would weigh 10 tonnes, almost as heavy as the truck that would carry it.
The pitter-patter of raindrops on your face feels nice, but a million drops of water weighs 50kg and would break your neck. A billion red helium balloons would have enough lift to carry 14,000 tonnes – enough to lift a hundred small, two-storey houses up into the air. A million grains of rice will feed a person for almost two months, while a billion ants would weigh twice a standard car (3 tonnes total).
(You should definitely check out Hank Green’s take on “a million seconds”, because everything is better if Hank Green is ranting about it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ7A0yTDiqQ)