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USGS Geology in the Parks

How Much is a Billion?

Our planet is 4.55 billion (4,550,000,000) years old!

Compared with other animals, humans have long lives. Relative to the 4.55 billion-year history of our planet, however, our 80-year life spans pass in an instant of time. Because we tend to think in terms of months and years, time periods that affect our daily lives, it's sometimes difficult to comprehend the immense amount of time that geologists refer to as 'geologic time'.

So, how much is a billion? The answer depends on who you ask! Americans do not agree with the British on names for numbers over a million! Both the American and British naming systems are given below.

American

British

Number Written Out

Scientific
Notation

1 Thousand 1 Thousand 1,000 103
1 Million 1 Thousand Million 1,000,000 106
1 Billion 1 Million 1,000,000,000 109
1 Trillion 1 Billion 1,000,000,000,000 1012
1 Quadrillion 1 Thousand Billion 1,000,000,000,000,000 1015
1 Quintillion 1 Trillion 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 1018

Still can't imagine numbers this big? How about this:

How long would it take to count to one (American) billion?

Try it! Start counting one number a second without stopping until you reach a billion. You will be able to stop in 31 years, 259 days, 1 hours, 46 minutes, and 40 seconds!

 

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