OK, you’ve probably heard of this one, but it’s a good starting point for visualization purposes. The gross domestic product of every country in the world combined is roughly 70 trillion dollars. But while a trillion used to be enough to describe anything, now that the Internet is expanding to include not just people, but data created by things, places, systems and entire companies, a trillion just doesn’t cut it.
Now that we’re generating more and more data, we’ve got to measure our lives with bigger and bigger numbers, so slap three zeros on the end of a trillion and you’ve got a quadrillion, a number that’s useful when you’re measuring data samples from transportation grids, or information about product lines for global companies.
A vigintillion is what a billion dreams of being when it grows up (by comparison, a billion is 10 to the 9th power). The number of stars in the observable universe is 300 sextillion, or 3 times 10 to the 23rd power. So we’re talking about some pretty big numbers, here.
A centillion is a little ridiculous to imagine: a one followed by 303 zeros. For another comparison, the size of the Internet (in bytes) has been estimated to be 10 to the 23rd power.
The name of the popular search engine actually means something: it’s a reference to the number googol, a 1 followed by 100 zeros.
This is where it starts to get crazy. A googol is 10 to the googol-th power. Carl Sagan once famously said that it was a number impossible to write in standard form (with all the zeros), because it would take more space (and particles) than exists in the entire universe.
7. Graham’s number
Graham’s number is so large that it can’t be expressed with power form like the other numbers on this page, so here’s a video of some mathematicians at the great website Numberphile talking about it. For decades it stood as the largest number to be used in a mathematical proof.