How Big's a Billion?
Today's Snack: A famous quotation that used the word
"billion" was by the late astronomer Carl Sagan. He once said, with so much enthusiasm
on his face that people made a joke out of it, that the universe has "BILLIONS
and BILLIONS of stars." Actually, he pronounced it "BEEEEELLIONS." In memory of
that famous one-liner, let's enjoy a starfruit! Slice and dip into a mixture of
a tablespoon of cream cheese, beaten, with a little pineapple juice mixed it
'til it's a little runny. Drink the rest of the pineapple juice to go with your
pencil | as many pennies as you can get
4 or more
pieces of graph paper
A billion is a
difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency did a good job of
putting that figure into some perspective:
- A billion seconds ago
it was 1959.
- A billion minutes ago
Jesus was alive.
- A billion hours ago
our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.
- A billion days ago no
one walked on the earth on two feet.
- A billion dollars ago
was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate our government is spending
Here are three
exercises to help you grasp just how big a billion is:
1. After Hurricane Katrina wrecked New
Orleans in 2005, Congress was asked to pay $250 billion from all American taxpayers, as a gift, to the
government in New Orleans, to help them rebuild New Orleans. What if the money
were paid directly to the people who were victims of the hurricane, or lost a
house there? Do these division problems by hand (answers below):
billion is distributed to each of the 484,674 residents of New Orleans, how
much would each person get?
If the $250
billion is divided among the owners of the 188,251 homes in New Orleans, how
much would be allocated for each house?
2. Stack pennies and measure them at
different heights. How many pennies does it take to make an inch? How many in
one foot? One yard (which is three feet)? If you can figure that out, you can
figure this out: how tall would a stack of one billion pennies be? No, you
don't have to gather that many pennies! Just do the math, based on how many
pennies are in one inch, one foot or one yard. Remember, there are 5,280 feet
in one mile.
3. They say there are poisons in our
drinking water that they can measure down to one part per billion. So there may
be one drop of toxic stuff in every one billion drops of water. Now imagine an
ocean that is one billion drops of water in area - 100 million drops wide and
100 million drops tall. You'll probably have to tape together four pieces of
graph paper to get this done. Chart out this huge imaginary ocean on graph
paper so that each square represents a million drops of water. That'll be 100
squares across and 100 squares down. Now, in this imaginary ocean, find the
center, and mark a tiny dot to represent where that one drop of poison might
to #1: A. $516, 528
B. $1,329,787 C. $2,066,012