How Much is a Trillion?

“It’d be a trillion-dollar war if it stopped today.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Oct 14, 2007, “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”

So how much is a Trillion? Well, starting out smaller, 1,000 Thousands equals 1 Million (1,000,000); 1,000 Millions equals 1 Billion (1,000,000,000); and 1,000 Billions equals 1 Trillion (1,000,000,000,000). A Trillion can also be thought of as a Million Millions, but let’s not go terribly crazy. So how can you relate to such a mind-numbing number like one Trillion?
Let’s start with money. Let’s imagine that you have a fantastic job that pays you one dollar for every second you work. (As you will see, there are people who get paid more than that.) There are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. If you were only getting paid for as 40-hour work week for all 52 weeks of the year, you would still be getting paid $7,488,000 in a year. And if you were getting your $1/sec rate for every second of the year, you would take in $31,536,000 for the entire year. At that rate, to earn a trillion dollars, you would have to work more than 31,709 years! And even if they magnanimously paid you $1,000/sec, it would still take you more than 31 years to earn that first $1 Trillion. They say the war in Iraq is costing taxpayers about $2 Billion dollars per week. There are 3,600 seconds in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and 7 days in a week for a total of 604,800 seconds per week. At $2 Billion per week, the Iraq War costs us over $3,000 every second! Can I borrow a couple of bucks for the rent this month?
Suppose you are a baseball fan. How can you relate to this? Let’s start with A-Rod, Alex Rodriguez, third baseman (currently) for the New York Yankees. (Enjoy your winter, boys! Ha-ha.) A-Rod made big news when he signed a contract estimated to be worth about $250 Million. He’s hoping to get another one just like it on a team from which he’ll retire several years down the road. There are 30 teams in the Major Leagues and at the end of the season, they are each allowed to carry 40 players on their rosters. So that’s 1,200 players in the majors at the end of the season. (Forget about the Disabled List and the openings they leave. Go with this, because it will amaze you.) If they gave every player on the 40-man roster of every one of the 30 teams in the Major Leagues a contract like A-Rods, they still wouldn’t add up to $1 Trillion. In fact, it wouldn’t even add up to a third of a trillion dollars. Put another way, the War in Iraq will end up costing us more than three times what it would cost to give every player on the 40-man roster of every team in the Major Leagues a contract like A-Rod’s. Yet they still raise ticket prices every year.
Finally, a look outward. Light travels at about 186,282 miles per second. A “light-year” is the distance that light travels in the course of a year. (It is actually a unit of distance, not of time.) At 31,536,000 seconds in a year (remember that fantastic salary you had two paragraphs back?), light travels about 5,874,589,152,000 miles in one year. The nearest star in the galaxy to our own is about 4 light-years away. That means that they are nearly 25 Trillion miles away from us. Scientists have observed things in the Universe that they conclude are older than the Universe itself (meaning they pre-dated the Big Bang.) The Universe is also estimated to be anywhere between 10 and 20 Billion years old, so let’s say that thing they saw was about 15 billion years old. What that means is that it took that light from that object 15 billion years to reach us. Which means it traveled about 90 Trillion miles to get here. And there’s every reason to believe that there is more of the Universe beyond that. And that ours is the only collection of galaxies comprising our own Universe. Even further away from us are other collections of galaxies forming their own Universe. Imagine how much gas it would take to drive there. (Let’s see, at 30 miles to the gallon, $3 per gallon,…)

17 thoughts on “How Much is a Trillion?

  1. And to add to that, there is less than 7 billion people alive on earth according to world population statistics
    (need help with spelling) Done. 😉
    one trillion>seven billion=more money for the rich?
    no, just less people alive.

  2. One Trillion is exactly half of the money that was reported missing from the Pentagon, on Sept. 10th 2001.

    that’s how much it is.

  3. And we never heard about it again. Quite a fortuitous time to make such an announcement, wouldn’t you say, willy? I mean, that was really bad news. Don’t they usually release really bad news late on a Friday? As we all know fully well, Sept 10, 2001 was a Monday. Why would they release such terrible news on a Monday? Could they have known that the news cycle would be dominated by something even bigger shortly afterwards? Or were they really just as lucky that day as they claim to have been incompetent the next?

  4. Idiomatic note: “Trillion” means a thousand billion — that is, a thousand thousand million — in American parlance; the British-English term for “a billion” would be “a milliard”, so the American “trillion” (above) would be a British “thousand milliard”.

    thanks to PurpleMath for clearing this up?

  5. Since homo sapiens came into being about 34,000 years ago, a trillion is about equal to the number of heartbeats that the average homo sapient would have experienced since that dawn (If he or she lived that long).

  6. I have one of those cordless mice. I flipped it over 180 and tried to position the cursor. That was almost as bad as a left-handed keyboard – one that starts with \][poiu instead of qwerty in the second row. I had a colleague who actually switched all of the keys and reassigned the keyboard codes on the left/right axis. It was really hunt and peck when I had to use his machine.

  7. OK, it takes about 1.7 million bacteria to equal a pound. Since I was 20, I have gained about 60 pounds. Thus about 80 million bacteria have entered my gut since my 20th birthday using that as a base number, there were but 1.3 of the thingees at birth.

  8. A billion in the US is 1 million times 1,000; whereas here a billion is 1 million times a million.

    Must be the dollar against the peso…

  9. Juan,
    We can extend the same logic to the negative side of fractions – is a picosecond equal to one thousandth of a microsecond or one millionth of a microsecond? The American (US) number system is based on a combo of the Arabic numeric system and Greek prefixes. If you want to study language over form, visit France. The language ministers there are still struggling with words like ‘Hamburger’ and ‘Frankfurter’ which traveled through France into the English lexicon.

  10. “So how can you relate to such a mind-numbing number like one Trillion?”

    i’ve been asking a similar question when “billions” became a common word…
    much the same as i would use “hundreds”…

    carl sagen blew my mind with “billions and billions” of stars…

  11. If light travels 5,874,589,152,000 miles in one year
    and the light from the most distant object observed in the universe has traveled for 15 ,ooo,000,000 (That’s 15 billion.) years, the light from that object traveled for 88,118,837,280,000,000,000,000 miles to Earth. This is 88.119 x 10**21 where the 21st power of ten is one sextillion or a million trillion in the American system.

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