How big is 10 to the 20th?

Here’s a great illustration from George Gamow’s classic book One Two Three… Infinity which shows two things: just how big 10^{20} really is, when thought of as a scaling factor; and also the power of a good illustration to drive home a point about math or science. The picture shows a normal-sized astronomer observing the Milky Way galaxy when shrunk down by a factor of 10^{20}

That’s a big number, folks. 

Gamow’s book is one of several on my summer reading list, and there’s a reason it’s a classic. In particular, it’s chock full of cool illustrations like this that convey more information about a science concept than an hour’s worth of lecturing. 



Filed under Geekhood, Math, Science

2 responses to “How big is 10 to the 20th?

  1. Jami

    Looks like a good one! I’ll have to pick this one up. Reminds me of Carl Sagan’s description of the history of the universe as a big calendar, where humans have only been around for a couple hours on December 31st. The Universe specials on the History channel used this same metaphor.

    I still havent found any math “story book” better than Flatland. I still rave about that one to people. 🙂 If only they could teach more things like this for the simple parts of math for younger students. Maybe people wouldnt get so scared… Or maybe I’m just a dork for thinking this stuff is cool!

  2. Pingback: Lessons Taught; Lessons Learnt » Blog Archive » Summer Reading: Part 1 — Books for me