Chapter 4

Scientific Notation

Space … is big. Really big. 
You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is.
I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, 
but that’s just peanuts to space.”
~ Douglas Adams

How to Handle Ridiculously Huge and Mind-Numbingly Small Numbers

Some things in this universe are crazy-big. Like the sizes of galaxies. Some things are crazy-small. Like the sizes of atoms.

The Milky Way galaxy is around 600,000,000,000,000,000 miles wide. In comparison, a hydrogen atom is around 0.000000000000016 miles wide. That’s a lot of zeros on one side of the decimal point or the other.

Do you really want to count up all those zeros?

Scientific notation takes the pain out of counting those zeros.

Once you have things in scientific notation it’s a lot easier to compare a couple of crazy-big (or crazy-small) numbers to each other. That is, assuming they are both in the same unit of measure. You can’t compare miles to millimeters or kilos to ounces without doing some more work converting them to a common unit of measure. But I digress.

The point is, once you get out into space or down into atoms, measurements get ridiculously huge or mind-numbingly small. There are lots of zeros involved. Scientific notation tames all those extra zeros.

Hopefully, the end-of-chapter activity will help you get a handle on this scientific notation stuff.

Here is the link from the text in Chapter 4:

20.  Deeper Dive “Scientific Notation – Math is Fun.”