In DepthMETROLOGY

Metric prefixes sought for extreme numbers

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Science  15 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6428, pp. 681
DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6428.681

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Summary

Fresh from redefining the kilogram and other fundamental measures, the guardians of the metric system have set their sights on another upgrade: new prefixes for outrageously large and small numbers. A proposal lodged with the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris recommends new names—ronna and quecca—as prefixes for 1027 and 1030, respectively. They would be joined by their microscopic counterparts, ronto for 1027, and quecto for 1030. If approved, the new terms could be formally introduced in 2022. They would be the first prefixes added since 1991. The planned update responds to the massive growth in global data storage, which by the early 2030s is forecast to reach 1 yottabyte (1024)—the top of the existing scale. Without new prefixes, computer scientists will have no way to officially talk about what comes next. At the other end of the scale, quantum physicists have measured atomic forces as small as 42 yoctonewtons. Much smaller and they run out of metrological road.