Experts have voted to expand the universe. Or, at the very least, the official terminology that can be used to describe the vanishingly small and the absurdly large.
The International System of Units (SI) embraced four new prefixes with immediate effect in a vote at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles on Friday. It marked the first such changes in more than 30 years.
The new prefixes ronna, which stands for a billion billion billion. And quetta, which is a thousand times larger, are at the top of the scale. At the very bottom is ronto, which means a billionth of a billionth of a billionth. And quecto, which is a thousand times smaller.
With the introduction of the new prefixes, The Earth can now be said to weigh six ronnagrams and Jupiter two quettagrams. A single electron weighs approximately one rontogram. And a single bit of data stored on a mobile phone adds approximately ten quectograms to its mass.
The unanimous vote favoured ronna, quetta, ronto, and quecto over some less scientific proposals, such as bronto and hella. These had been gaining traction, if only among computer scientists.
Dr. Richard Brown, head of metrology at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, London, said at the meeting: “The main reason to go to the high end is because data science requires these really big quantities of data to be described.” This should secure our future for the next 25 years.”
The chosen prefixes were chosen partly because they begin with the only two letters remaining in the alphabet. They are not already used in measurement. The b for “bronto” has already been used for bytes. And the h for “hella” has already been used for hecto, the prefix for 100. “The purpose of these prefixes and units is to ensure clear communication across disciplines,” Brown explained. “You need official, universally accepted nomenclature.”