What’s the biggest number you can think of? A million? A billion? A trillion? A gazillion? Infinity?

Long ago, mathematicians came up with an easy way of representing very large numbers. They created exponents (also called powers) to represent the mathematical function of multiplying a number by itself a certain number of times.

Let’s look at some examples. If you see 10^{2}, 10 is the base and the ^{2} is the exponent or power. 10^{2} means 10 to the second power or 10 multiplied by itself twice. Thus, 10^{2} is the same as 10 X 10 or 100.

Likewise, 10^{3} is the same as 10 x 10 x 10, which equals 1,000. Do you see a pattern? When 10 is the base, the exponent will be the number of zeroes after the 1 in the answer. So, 10^{6} would be a 1 with 6 zeroes, or 1,000,000 (1 million).

Exponents work with any base. For example, 4^{2} is the same as 4 x 4 (16) and 4^{3} is the same as 4 x 4 x 4 (64).

How would 1 billion and 1 trillion be represented as exponents? One billion is 1 followed by 9 zeroes, or 10^{9}. One trillion is 1 followed by 12 zeroes, or 10^{12}.

Believe it or not, mathematicians use numbers much bigger than 1 trillion. In 1938, a 9-year-old boy named Milton Sirotta, who was the nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner, invented a new number that he called a googol. According to Milton, a googol is 10^{100}, or 1 followed by 100 zeroes!

How big is a googol? Really, really big! Mathematicians believe a googol is bigger than the number of subatomic particles in the universe. Despite its size, a googol is still smaller than the total number of possible different games of chess (approximately 10^{120}).

Not content with the mind-blowing size of the googol, Milton also invented an even bigger number: the googolplex. A googolplex is 10^{googol}, or 1 with a googol of zeroes after it.

How big is a googolplex? If all the matter in the universe was turned into paper, it still wouldn’t be enough paper to write down all the zeroes in a googolplex. Even if you tried to write out all the zeroes in a googolplex — and could write two numbers per second — it would take you longer than the age of the universe to write it down!

Googol and googolplex aren’t used very often, except to show the difference between an incredibly large number and infinity…or to remind students how exponents can be used to generate huge numbers quickly.

These terms did inspire one of the most famous and successful companies in the world today, though. Technology giant Google chose its name based upon a purposeful misspelling of googol.

The company wanted to convey that its Internet search engine could provide huge quantities of information for its users. Google’s current headquarters in Mountain View, California, has come to be known as the Googleplex.

Google now processes over 1 billion search requests every day. The main Google search engine is the Internet’s most-visited website.

The Google search engine — a noun — has become so associated with Internet searching that google — a verb — was added to the dictionary. It means “to use the Google search engine to obtain information on the Internet.”

Dear Wonderopolis,

Googolplex is a BIG number! We were excited to learn that Googol is connected to exponents! In our Math class, we just finished studying about exponents! So, this is a great connection for us to make! This WONDER made us WONDER what will be the name of the number after Googolplex?

TEAM CAISSE 5th grade Reading class

What a WONDERful comment you left for us today, TEAM Caisse! We’re really glad that today’s Wonder aligned so well with what you just finished studying in math class! We love to hear about our Wonder Friends’ personal connections to the Wonders of the Day®!

Hey, I can’t believe this wonder about google. You know what? Here is a really cool wonder…what is the biggest number in the whole world, and you already have that wonder! Here is one more…where is the center of the earth? Well, I hope you like my wonders.

Your ideas for Wonders are GREAT, Kate! Thank you so much for sharing them with us and for being such an awesome Wonder Friend!

Class was fun today, Mrs. Caisse!!!! I loved every bit of it! You’re a great teacher. By the way, I’m in your reading class.

We’re so glad you like learning in Mrs. Caisse’s class, PinkSocks! We think she’s a really awesome teacher for sharing Wonderopolis with her students every day, don’t you?

We want to know why everybody dies.

That really is something LOTS of Wonder Friends WONDER about, Shane! Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis today and leaving us this comment! We appreciate you!

If you bang anything on a metal pot why does it make noise?????????

That’s a GREAT question, Luke! Check out this past Wonder of the Day® for a little more insight into sound:

Wonder #161 – What Makes Sounds Louder? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-makes-sounds-louder/

Hey there Wonderopolis!

This is an amazing wonder! I learned a lot about the (number) googol. I learned two new words from this wonder. They are convey and quantities. I never knew that from the (number) googol they got the name for the website Google, except they spelled it wrong. I also never knew that googol was a specific number. I thought it was just saying that something is really, really big. Why did Google choose to have googol as their logo? Anyways, I learned a lot about the (number) googol. I will never stop WONDERing!:)

It ROCKS that you said you will never stop WONDERing, Team Unger 7! It makes us SUPER happy to hear that! We won’t, either…we LOVE to WONDER! We really liked hearing all the cool things you learned by visiting this Wonder of the Day®!

If you were wondering, I will show you how big one googol is without comas:

1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

MAN, isn’t that big or what! Most people think googol is the last number but, numbers never end!

That really is a SUPER BIG number, Jacob! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today and helping us see what a googol looks like without commas! YOU ROCK!

Yes,yes you do.

Thanks for WONDERing, Michael!

100 zeros. no problem

10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

TA DA.

(gosh that a huge number. So a googolplex is 100 times that. I’ve got a lot of 0′s to type).

Well, I will try it

100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

OH MY GOSH MY FINGER IS TIRED.

(You may want to highlight it to see it.)

WOW, we are impressed with your diligent work, Tyler J! We are proud of you– thanks for WONDERing about the googol with us today! Phew!

Yes Googol is indeed a big number. But the thing is numbers are endless, and possibilities are also endless. So my wonder is…Is it possible to give every number a name? Like googol, trillion, billion….

Hi Jasmine! Thanks for WONDERing with us! What a WONDERful Wonder! It is possible, but perhaps we haven’t discovered the largest number yet! Keep WONDERing!

WOW! I didn’t know it’s this big:

1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000!

Hi Michael! Thanks for WONDERing with us! It it very big! What’s the largest number of stuff that you’ve seen in real life? 100 pizzas? 20,000 people? We’re having so much fun WONDERing with you!

900000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 times 900000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

Wow, Jace, that would be a big number! Thanks for WONDERing with us!

I think googol would be something like

100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000.

Great try! However, we think you may need more zeros, Wonder Friend!