As World’s Data Use Grows, So Do Numbers To Measure It

Nov 29, 2022

International System of Units Prefixes, Explained

If we typed out the four new numbers introduced at the United Kingdom’s National Physical Laboratory’s (NPL) 27th General Conference on Weights and Measures, we wouldn’t have room for anything else in this article.

That’s because the new prefixes NPL added to the metric system are meant to measure huge amounts of data. Prefixes can be attached to any base unit. For example, the “kilo-” in kilometer and the “milli-” in milligram are prefixes.

At the upper end of things, NPL’s math wizzes coined the term “ronna.” It means a digit with 27 trailing zeroes. They also came up with “quetta.” That prefix means the number has 30 zeroes following the first digit. There are new prefixes for tiny numbers, too. “Ronto” is a decimal followed by 27 zeroes before the first non-zero digit. “quecto” has 30 zeroes after the decimal point. 

So, what can the new numbers measure? On a big scale, we can measure our planet. It weighs about 6 ronnagrams. And the sun weighs almost 2,000 quettagrams. In the world of the very small, a single electron’s mass is about one rontogram.

Humans have already created about 100 zettabytes (stick 21 zeroes after that hundred) of data in the digital age. The International Data Corporation estimates we’ll hit 175 zettabytes by 2025. That rate of growth, NPL argues, means we need new words to discuss it.

"It was high time. (We) need new words as things expand," NPL’s head of measurement told The Associated Press. "In just a few decades, the world has become a very different place." 

Based on the infographic, which of the following measurements of data is the smallest? (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. 1 megabyte
b. 1 gigabyte
c. 1 petabyte
d. 1 exabyte
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