Monday, October 6, 2008

Putting a Number in Perspective

How Much is $700 Billion?

This isn’t political commentary either for or against the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I don’t do politics on my blog. So consider this merely an education in talking about big, BIG numbers. About grasping the kind of numbers Carl Sagan made famous with his catch phrase “billions and billions of stars.” Speaking in that context, the concept of 700 billion is indeed astronomical.

In the current fiscal year, NASA will launch several missions, pay salaries for hundreds to operate numerous space telescopes, robotic Mars missions and extensive media and public relations. NASA's annual budget is only $17.6 billion, a mere 2.5 per cent of $700 billion.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) supports research and education on astronomy, chemistry, materials science, computing, engineering, earth sciences, nanoscience and physics at more than 1,900 universities and institutions across the United States. NSF’s budget is $6.06 billion. (I won’t even bother figuring the percentage on that.)

700 billion dollar bills, taped end-to-end, could circle the circumference of the Earth 2,651 times.

There are only 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way is just one of about two dozen galaxies in what is called the Local Group, with a combined total (in two dozen galaxies, mind you) of about 700 billion stars.

If your heart beat 700 billion times during your lifetime, you would live for over 203 centuries or 20,300 years.

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