(ORDO NEWS) — Say hello to ronnagrams and quettameters: International scientists meeting in France voted on Friday for new metric prefixes to express the world’s largest and smallest measurements, driven by an ever-increasing amount of data.
This marks the first time in over three decades new prefixes have been added to the International System of Units (SI), the agreed global standard for the metric system.
Replenishment of the series of well-known prefixes, such as kilogram and milli, is ronna and queta for the largest numbers, and ronto and kekto for the smallest.
The change was voted on by scholars and government representatives from around the world who attended the 27th General Conference on Weights and Measures, which is run by the SI and meets roughly every four years at the Palace of Versailles, west of Paris.
The UK‘s National Physical Laboratory, which has spearheaded the push for the new prefixes, confirmed the resolution had been adopted in a statement.
Prefixes make it easy to express large amounts – for example, constantly referring to a kilometer as 1000 meters or a millimeter as one thousandth of a meter will quickly become unwieldy.
Since the SI was created in 1960, scientific need has led to a growing number of prefixes. The last time was in 1991, when chemists wanting to express huge molecular quantities pushed for the addition of zetta and yotta.
A yottameter is a one followed by 24 zeros.
But even according to Richard Brown, head of metrology at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, a huge yot is not enough to keep up with the world’s insatiable appetite for data.
“In terms of expressing data in yottabytes, which is the prefix at present, we are very close to the limit,” Brown told AFP.
“At the bottom, it makes sense to have a symmetrical expansion, which is useful for quantum science, particle physics when you’re measuring very, very small things.”
New weight of the world
The new prefixes could simplify how we talk about some fairly large objects.
“If we think about mass rather than distance, the Earth weighs about six ronnagrams,” which is six followed by 27 zeros, Brown said.
“Jupiter, that’s about two quettagrams,” he added. ded is a 2 followed by 30 zeros.
Brown said he got the idea for the upgrade when he saw media reports using unauthorized storage prefixes such as Brontobytes and Gellabytes. Google in particular has been using hella to denote bytes since 2010.
“These were informal terms, so it was clear that SI had to do something,” he said.
However, the metric prefixes need to be shortened to their first letter, and B and H were already taken, excluding bronto and hella.
“The only letters that were not used for other units of measurement or other symbols. were R and Q,” Brown said.
By convention, large prefixes end in A and smaller prefixes end in O.
And “the middle of the words is very, very loosely based on the Greek and Latin notation for 9 and 10,” Brown said.
The new prefixes should “protect the system from the future” and meet the world’s need for higher numbers – at least for the next 20 to 25 years, he added.
Contact us: [email protected]