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That's a Hella Number!

Million, Billion, Trillion...Google, Googleplex! All names for numbers we know (but may not use).

Now, scientists are asking for a new number name...for numbers larger than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 1027). Their goal is a prefix akin to "kilo", "mega" and "giga," but for numbers the size of 27 zeroes. What name would you choose?

Currently, the highest known prefix sanctioned by the International System of Units (SI) is the "zetta" and "yotta", for 21 and 24 zeroes respectively. But, scientists need names for higher numbers, to express the sun's wattage, distances between galaxies, or the number of atoms in a sample.

For 1027, Austin Sendek, a Univ. of CA physics student, is leading the crusade for the prefix "hella." The latter is Northern Californian slang for "very" or "a lot of." Seems fitting!

Three things stand in the way of Sendek's campaign:

  • Ian Mills, the University of Reading professor and Head of ICU's Consultative Committee for Units, has agreed to discuss the issue at the next meeting, but noted: "At the moment we are focusing on more pressing issues, such as redefining the weight of the kilogram."
  • Mills also noted that a simpler option would be to relax current rules banning compound prefixes, as then a hella would equal a kiloyotta.
  • Despite Sendeck's enthusiasm for the name hella, it deviates from past SI prefixes being derived from Latin or Greek words for numbers.
Regardless, Sendeck's havin' hella' ride! Plus, more than 20,000 Facebook users have signed his petition....that is 2x10-23 hella users!

Some progress has been made, despite the SI's lack of consideration. First, in May 2010, Google officially recognized the "hella" prefix, and it is now allowed in the Google calculator. Then, WolframAlpha adopted the term, which can be entered into its search bar.

Finally, browse through Sendeck's official Make Hella Pepition, both the peition itself plus the many comments. Fun!

Source: M. Moore's "Hella Number," The Telegraph, March 2, 2010