New SI unit names: Ronnametres and quettagrams confirmed

New prefixes have been confirmed in the International System of Units, resulting in ronto and quecto being used for small numbers and ronna and quetta for very large numbers, such as the amount of data on internet servers


November 17, 2022, updated November 18, 2022

A woman standing in the server room corridor

So much data is being produced on the internet that we have run out of words to describe the scale

Eric Isakson Photography/Digital Vision/Getty Images

The new prefixes for the world’s largest and smallest numbers have been confirmed by a vote in General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) in Versailles, France, on Friday. Suggested prefixes are ronna and quetta for very large numbers and ronto and quecto for very small numbers.

The International System of Units (SI) is a standard that most scholars agree on and supports every measurement. In addition to specifying things like kilograms and metres, it specifies how large and very small numbers should be named.

The last expansion of this naming system was in 1991, when numbers with 21 or 24 zeros were given the prefixes zetta (1021) and Utah (1024) for very large and zepto (10-21) and yocto (10-24) for the very young. There were few reasons to use it back then, but the increasing amount of data generated by the Internet makes it even more useful now – the amount of information is expected to reach 175 zettabytes by 2025.

“There is already quite a bit of speculation in the popular media about what could come on top of the yottabyte,” he says. Richard Brown At the National Physical Laboratory, UK Measurement Standards Centre.

For example, some have used brontobyte informally to describe 1027 bytes, while Google’s unit converter has long changed 1027 bytes in hellabyte. But these don’t fit into the SI nomenclature system, because the letters “b” and “h” are already used for prefixes or commonly used for other units, Brown says, so adopting a standard now will ensure that alternative prefixes don’t seem to be deeply rooted in the scientific literature.

Brown helped craft the motion that CGPM member states voted on Friday. Since there were no objections, the two new pads for the numbers with 27 and 30 zeros became, respectively, runa and koita for the large numbers, and ronto and kikoto for the small numbers.

Although they will become SI prefixes with immediate effect, it may take some time for scientists to adopt them in their work.

Some scientists doubt whether they will be useful at all. “We tend to define our own units, which are only useful in terms of the things we’re actually looking at,” says the astronomer. Mike Merrifield at the University of Nottingham, UK.

Brown suggests that Rontu and Keketo could have uses in radio astronomy, such as measuring the very weak strength of the cosmic microwave background, radiation left over from the Big Bang, but astronomers already frequently use non-SI jansky for this purpose, Merrifield says. .

Still, the benefits of science communication are clear, Brown says. “You’ll be able to communicate what you mean a lot better if you use these standardized methods.”

While the names may seem random, stick to strict guidelines, Brown says. The letters “R” and “q” were the only letters left in the English alphabet that were not used by other prefixes, midwords loosely translated from the Greek or Latin term for the number of times you need to multiply by 1000 in to get to numbers, as He says, and the endings were because large prefixes always end in “a,” while small prefixes end in “o.”

As for when we might see larger or smaller prefixes, Brown thinks we’ll have to wait at least 25 years. “It is very difficult to predict the future, but I think this will certainly help me, I imagine, for my retirement and for a longer period.”

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