The best visual description of the size of one billion?

Discussion in 'Physics & Math' started by Wexler, Mar 27, 2008.

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  1. Wexler Gadfly Registered Senior Member

    I am looking for the best visual description of what one billion is.

    Here are some examples:

    A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency did a good job of putting that figure into perspective in one of its releases.

    a.. A billion seconds ago it was 1959.
    b.. A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.
    c.. A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the StoneAge.
    d.. A billion days ago no-one walked on two feet on earth.
    e.. A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate our government spends it.

    Too abstract. I need something tangible.

    The most recent example I have heard, and one I can almost grasp is the following:

    Take a wheat seed, and imagine it filling up all the rooms on the first floor of your house. That would be one billion wheat seeds.

    I have no idea how big a wheat seed is.

    Here's a couple more:

    The length of your thumb is 1,000, your thumb to your elbow is 1,000,000 and your elbow to the equator (from where ever you are currently reading this from...I hope it's no where near the equator) is 1,000,000,000.

    A dump truck full of sand has 1,000,000,000 grains of sand.

    So, here is my request: what is the best visual representation you have ever heard in attempting to grasp what 1,000,000,000 is?

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  3. draqon Banned Banned

    is the temperature of the Sandia Z machine, exceeding a billion of degrees Kelvin

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  5. draqon Banned Banned

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  7. Sciencelovah Registered Senior Member

    One billion?

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    It is about as much as Indian's population (1.12 billion, 2007 estimation).

    For more visual description, imagine in which country you live now,
    how much is its population, population density, and area (can look
    in wikipedia). Then, look in wikipedia for India profile, then you can
  8. temur man of no words Registered Senior Member

    Typical big but not too big book (~500 pages) has 1.5million characters. So on billion character would be good 700 books, a small library.

    1 billion byte is approximately 1GB. It is amazing that your RAM can hold an entire library, not to mention 100GB hard drives.
  9. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member

    Hi Wexler,
    The list is out of date... a billion seconds is about 31 years 8 months.

    Substitute "peppercorn", "match head", "tic tac", or "rice bubble".

    That one's just wrong.
    For starters, your forearm isn't 1000 times longer than your thumb (unless your forearm is like 150 feet long!), and going 1000 time longer again only takes you 50km away.

    That doesn't sound right either. Grains 1mm across would make pretty coarse sand, but a billion grains would take up roughly 1 cubic metre and weigh about 1.5 metric tonnes. That's a big ute load (pick-up truck), not a dump truck.
    Your average scoop of beach or desert sand would have much smaller grains. A billion 0.2mm grains would only weigh 15kg, and fit in a big bucket.


    Try counting.
    Let's say you want to put yourself to sleep, so you count sheep. Say you can count really fast, about 10 sheep every second.
    Those sheep are really running past fast!
    • In a second, 10 sheep go by
    • In a minute, 600 sheep go by
    • In an hour, 36000 sheep go by
    • All night (12 hours - you have bad insomnia), over 430,000 sheep go by
    • In a week (24x7), 6 million sheep go by (You should really see a doctor about this problem)
    • In a month, 25 million sheep go by
    • After a year, you've seen over 300 million sheep. That's a year of your life you'll never get back!
    • Keep going... if your concentration and sanity hold, you can count a billion sheep in only 3 years and 3 months. Hooray!

    Or maybe money. Try the Megapenny project:
    Visualizing huge numbers can be very difficult. People regularly talk about millions of miles, billions of bytes, or trillions of dollars, yet it's still hard to grasp just how much a "billion" really is. The MegaPenny Project aims to help by taking one small everyday item, the U.S. penny, and building on that to answer the question: "What would a billion (or a trillion) pennies look like?"
    Here is a picture of one billion pennies from that site:

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  10. §outh§tar is feeling caustic Registered Senior Member

    I almost fainted when I saw e). Even when you know these things, hearing them again is never any easier.
  11. Wexler Gadfly Registered Senior Member

    Thanks Pete! Excellent work by you!
  12. karmz86 Registered Member

    try this for a visual of a billion

    This site also shows you what a trillion $100 bills would look like as well...


    I hope this helps!
  13. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

    Maybe it's just me, but a 1 followed by nine zeros works just perfectly.
  14. origin Heading towards oblivion Valued Senior Member

    Interesting. However example 'd' is not correct. 1 billion days ago, in all likelyhood, there were animals that walked on 2 feet.
  15. Cifo Day destroys the night, Registered Senior Member

    One billion (1,000,000,000) is 1,000³, so a cube of ping pong balls with 1,000 balls on a side (length, width and height) would measure 40 meters (131 feet) per side and would weight 2.7 million kilograms (6 million pounds).
  16. Farsight

    You could use something smaller. Take a grain of salt that's a 1mm cube. Lay down a line of grains 1000mm long. Now repeat with another line of grains next to the first one, and keep on going until you've got a thousand lines making up a flat white square on the floor. Repeat the whole thing a thousand times until you've got a one-metre cube of salt grains. That's a billion.

    Or you can start smaller with a million, and use something bigger like Oxo cubes. A million is only a 100 x 100 x 100. Since an Oxo cube is 2cm across, a million Oxo cubes would be one big cube 2m x 2m x 2m. It isn't that much really, you could imagine this sitting there in your living room. Arrange 10 x 10 x 10 of these cubes in a warehouse to make a bigger cube of a billion. It's 20m high, so you'll need a big warehouse.
  17. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member


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    I really don't want to imagine 10 tonnes of Oxo sitting in my living room.
  18. Farsight

    Aw, I couldn't resist it: A box of 12 Oxo cubes is 71 grams. So a million weigh in at 5.9167 million grams. That's only six tonnes!
  19. Rav Valued Senior Member

    If you were to count sheep at the relaxed rate that most people probably do it for the purposes of falling asleep (which would be about one every 3 seconds) it would take approximately 95 years to get through a billion.
  20. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Hmm okay, but would I fall asleep?
  21. Rav Valued Senior Member

    Until you get through a billion, you're not allowed to. Dying is also cheating.
  22. kwhilborn Banned Banned

    @ dywy,
    Yes! You would fall asleep every 3 sheep.

    Making a billion dollars is easy! Just figure out how to make $100 000, and then do it 10 000 times.

    Billion pennies would stack floor to ceiling as high and long as 5 big school buses, and weigh 2882 short tons.

    How much did the taxpayers fork out to make a billion pennies. A lot more than they are worth at an estimated 1.5 cents each.

    that's $15 million to make the $10 million in pennies. Based on worth of 56 Billion.

    If Bill gates met a new person every 10 seconds, he could afford to give a million dollars to every person he met for almost a week or six and a half days.
    This would give us 56 000 new millionaires.

    petes answer was the best imo.
  23. AlexG Like nailing Jello to a tree Valued Senior Member

    hmmm... •one grain of sand has a volume of 1.3 * 10^-9 cubic feet (from

    Soo... on billion grains, 10^9 grains should take up about .77 cubic feet.

    So about, and this is a guess based upon my granddaughter's pail in the bathtub, that it's about the size of a child's large pail full of sand.

    That's a billion.
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