Welcome to ronnagrams and quettameters: The General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) on Friday adopted new prefixes to express exact or colossal orders of magnitude, which are becoming more common in modern science.
This is the first time in more than three decades that the International System (SI), introduced in 1960 and more commonly known as the metric system, has adopted new prefixes.
If everyone knows the kilo, which expresses for example the number of meters or grams in thousandths, with three zeros behind the unit, scientists just use zetta or yotta, which expresses a quantity with 21 and 24 zeros, respectively.
They were introduced in 1991, when the chemical community needed to express amounts of molecules of that order of magnitude.
But even Utah can’t meet the need to express ever-increasing orders of magnitude due to the explosion of digital technologies, says Richard Brown, chair of metrology, metrology, at the UK’s National Physics Laboratory.
“We are very close to the maximum allowable data expression in yottabytes, which is the highest prefix available,” according to a report by AFP, This Scientist, who was the initiator of the change.
This change isn’t just about the infinitely large: it also applies to the infinitely small, when we study “quantum science, particle physics, where we measure very, very small things,” Richard Brown adds.
Baptistery in Versailles
The new prefixes ronna (R) and quetta (Q) express quantities with 27 and 30 zeros behind the unit, respectively. Symmetrically, ronto (r) and quecto (q) express quantities whose units are, respectively, 27 and 30 behind the comma.
With these prefixes, “the earth weighs about six rongrams,” or six followed by 27 zeros, notes Dr. Brown.
Conversely, something weighing six rontograms would be equal to a decimal number with six placed 27th to the right of the decimal point.
These changes were approved on Friday at the Palace of Versailles (west of Paris) by scholars gathered at the CGPM, which takes place every four years.
The British scientist wanted to create new prefixes by observing the emergence of fictional sects used to store data, such as + brontobytes + or even + hellabytes +.
However, the requirements of the International Standard System for the use of single letter prefixes had to be met. “The only letters not used for units or other symbols are R and Q,” he says.
The convention also states that prefixes with large orders end in “a,” and those with very small quantities in “o.”
The Rona, Ronto, Koita and Kikto should meet the measurement needs of very large numbers for at least 20 to 25 years, the metrologist says.