Use This Tool to Visualise Large Numbers or Weird Units

Photo: Romolo Tavani, Shutterstock
Photo: Romolo Tavani, Shutterstock

Have you ever come across a really large number or a measurement in an obscure unit and thought, I have no idea how big or how much that actually is? Wouldn’t it be easier if you could compare to something you’re familiar with, like the length of a basketball game or the size of a bathtub?

Type your weird quantity into The Measure of Things, and you’ll get a list of comparative and relative numbers measured in units you can conceptualise (at least generally), like the volume of a soccer ball or the weight of a cat.

Even if you can’t actually picture the exact distance from New York City to Los Angeles, you probably can imagine that a tenth of it (554 kilometres) is pretty long. Or if you live in Seattle, you can probably conceptualise that 554 kilometres is also about equal to 3,000 Space Needles stacked on top of each other.

You can also use The Measure of Things to understand unfamiliar units, like fathoms and shakes and stones, in more standard terms. For the record, a fathom is about as long as a full-size bed, a shake is 0.0000000010 the length of an IndyCar pit stop (so, very fast) and a stone weighs about as much as two bricks. The database has comparisons for measurements of weight, length, speed, time, height, area, volume, and computer data.

When you search your measurement, you’ll get anywhere from a few to a few dozen pages of results, which generally start with the comparisons that are closest to one-to-one (though you can also sort by the highest/largest and lowest/smallest). This means you have lots of options for finding a measure to which you can personally relate.

Log in to comment on this story!