The vast amount of data that we as a species generate and publish on the internet every day has created a linguistic problem.
The prefixes we have used to name the information (kilobytes, megabytes, terabytes) we are no longer enough to describe everything that exists – and that it will exist – on the net.
That is why the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM), during its 27th meeting, defined the new prefixes that will be used within the International System of Units to express massive quantities, as well as incredibly tiny.
The new measures
Ronna, with the symbol R, will be the prefix used to describe numbers in which the first digit is followed by 27 zeros. While quetta or Q will describe numbers where the first digit is followed by 30 zeros.
Power/ Prefix/ Symbol
10^27/ ronna /R.
10^-27/ soon / r
10^30/ quetta / Q
10^-30/ quecto / what
Towards the other side of the spectrum, the CGPM defined that the prefix ronto will be used, with the symbol r, to refer to numbers in which there are 27 zeros before the decimal point; and quecto or q, for those in which the zeros preceding the decimal point are 30.
Understanding the new measures
To get an idea of the numbers that can be described with these new endings, the Washington Post newspaper used Earth as a frame of reference.
How much does the Earth weigh? Now you can say that it weighs 5.74 ronnagrams. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)
Our planet has an approximate weight in grams of 5,974,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, or 5.974×10^27.
Using the endings that we currently have in the metric system, that number can be expressed as 5.974×10^24 kilograms, 5.974×1021 megagrams, or simply 5.974 ronnagrams. If we were measuring a planet with a weight of 8×10^30 grams, we could refer to a planet that weighs 8 quettagrams.
If you were measuring something as tiny as 3×10^-27 or 6×10^-30, something like the very faint cosmic background or microwave radiation that exists in the universe as a remnant of the Big Bang, you could mean 3 rontometers. or 6 quectometers.
As we explore quantum physics, we expand the language and units of measurement we use. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)
These new prefixes are the first the conference has added since zetta (10^21), yotta (10^24), zepto (10^-21) and yocto (10^-24) were added in 1991.
The growth of information
In the resolution announcing the prefixes, the CGPM specifically referred to the «data science needs in the near future to express amounts of digital information» in a unified way.
Ways are needed to measure all the information we generate on the internet. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)
It also added that the prefixes should be adopted soon «to prevent de facto prefixes from being used and adopted in other communities.»
Another resolution that was adopted in the CGPM gives indications of what the future plans are to achieve unification of all kinds of measures at a global level. Particularly with the measurement of time.
The conference «prompts the Weights and Measures Committee (CIPM) to bring proposals to the 28th meeting of the CGPM (2026) to» define how much a second is equal to, «so that a new definition is adopted at the 29th meeting of the CGPM in 2030”.
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