What is the largest number you know? Do you ever hear the word "bazillion"? Some people think bazillion is a really big number. Is it?

One of the smallest of the large numbers is 1,000. Three zeros after the one mean that the number is 10 times 10 times 10, or we sometimes say 10 to the third power. Have you counted to a thousand? In the thousands "family," there is also ten thousand (10,000) and one hundred thousand (100,000), each adding another zero.

A million is 1,000,000 - a one with six zeros. It is a thousand thousand! If you want to see how big that is, the jar pictured here has a million beads in it with only one black bead. This is a Becker Bottle, or a "one in a million jar."

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Becker Bottle

How many leaves are on a tree? How many stars in the Milky Way galaxy? Do you think there are more or less than a million?

A large, healthy maple tree may have over 100,000 leaves on it. That is quite a few leaves, but not a million. Stars in the Milky Way galaxy, though, are thought to be numbered at more than 350 billion (350,000,000,000). Think of that when you look up on a warm summer night to admire the sky.

This summer, think about "big numbers." If you go to the beach, estimate the numbers of grains of sand you can hold in your hand. How many fish do you think are in the ocean? What are other big numbers you can estimate?

Big numbers also help us to describe how far away something like a star is from Earth. Our closest star, the Sun, is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) away from Earth. The closest star system (Proxima Centauri) is 24 trillion (24,000,000,000,000) miles away or 40 trillion kilometers!

Sometimes big numbers are used to describe how long ago something lived, such as the dinosaurs. It is amazing to think that these awesome creatures lived on Earth over 65 million (65,000,000) years ago.

So, how many zeros are in a bazillion? Is bazillion a big number?

It turns out that bazillion isn't a number at all. "Zillion" isn't a number, either.

There are lots of large numbers, though, with lots of zeros and strange, wonderful words that label them. A great real word to use is "googol," which means one followed by one hundred zeros!

Now, that is a big number!

- Libby and Robert Strong and Richard Pollack work with the SMART-Center, a hands-on science outreach and education organization in the northern Ohio Valley, the headquarters of which is located at the SMART Centre Market, 30 22nd St., Wheeling.