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Number of stars in the Milky Way was wrong

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RichardRand
1237415.  Wed May 17, 2017 1:24 am Reply with quote

I was at yesterday's recording with Bill Bailey et al (May 16). In a question involving astronomy, Sandi stated and the screens showed that the number of stars in the Milky Way is estimated at 100-400 million, but as an astronomer I can tell you that it is actually 100-400 billion, so bigger by 1000. Not sure what can be done at this point or whether that question will be used.

Otherwise, a hilarious afternoon!

 
Jenny
1237439.  Wed May 17, 2017 9:35 am Reply with quote

Glad you enjoyed it Richard, and I'm surprised that one got past our resident astrophysicist!

 
crissdee
1237476.  Wed May 17, 2017 5:28 pm Reply with quote

Great quibble, but what it boils down to is that, rather than the number of stars being several orders of magnitude beyond what normal people can visualise, it is in fact several orders of magnitude beyond that.

 
RichardRand
1237486.  Thu May 18, 2017 1:17 am Reply with quote

Indeed! I happen to be an astronomer, which is why I caught the mistake right away, but it is always a challenge to communicate large numbers when we are teaching, and it's hard for a lot of people to get a sense of the difference between 100 million and 100 billion. That was sort of the point of the QI question that day - to compare it to other large numbers of things that might be a bit more familiar - we'll see if they use it!

 
RichardRand
1257007.  Fri Oct 20, 2017 11:20 pm Reply with quote

Well, they used it! I tried to tell them! QI, if you would like a replacement resident astrophysicist, I am available. Reasonable rates.

 
GuyBarry
1257012.  Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:40 am Reply with quote

RichardRand wrote:
it's hard for a lot of people to get a sense of the difference between 100 million and 100 billion.


Indeed - for many non-mathematically minded people both "million" and "billion" simply seem to mean "an inconceivably large number", and it might as well be "zillion" or "squillion".

And it's not helped by the fact that the meaning of "billion" has changed. When I was a child I learned that a billion was a million million (the traditional British definition), but then the American definition of a thousand million took over, even though the "bi-" prefix doesn't really make sense. (And I think most European languages use the "million million" definition, to confuse things further.)

 
Dix
1257018.  Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:00 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
RichardRand wrote:
it's hard for a lot of people to get a sense of the difference between 100 million and 100 billion.


Indeed - for many non-mathematically minded people both "million" and "billion" simply seem to mean "an inconceivably large number", and it might as well be "zillion" or "squillion".

And it's not helped by the fact that the meaning of "billion" has changed. When I was a child I learned that a billion was a million million (the traditional British definition), but then the American definition of a thousand million took over, even though the "bi-" prefix doesn't really make sense. (And I think most European languages use the "million million" definition, to confuse things further.)


Has the definition "officially" changed? I'm never sure which definition is meant when I hear/see billion used in the news. With that kind of muddled definition "an inconceivably large number" is actually all you can infer unless you are sure which definition was meant - except, perhaps, when comparing (e.g. large amounts of money in budgets).
One just have to hope that the same definition is used when you are given numbers to compare....

I grew up with x1000 names like this: thousand - million - milliard - billion - billiard (in Denmark).

 
GuyBarry
1257019.  Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:16 am Reply with quote

Dix wrote:

Has the definition "officially" changed? I'm never sure which definition is meant when I hear/see billion used in the news.


The BBC certainly uses "billion" to mean 1,000,000,000, and I'm pretty sure all the other broadcasters and newspapers do (such as the Telegraph). The government has been using "billion" to mean 1,000,000,000 since the 1970s. The then Prime Minister Harold Wilson said in a written answer in 1974:

Harold Wilson wrote:
The word 'billion' is now used internationally to mean 1,000 million and it would be confusing if British Ministers were to use it in any other sense. I accept that it could still be interpreted in this country as 1 million million and I shall ask my colleagues to ensure that, if they do use it, there should be no ambiguity as to its meaning.


The latest (2015) edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage says "it is now best to work on the assumption that the word means 'a thousand million' in all English-speaking areas, unless there is direct contextual evidence to the contrary".

Quote:
I grew up with x1000 names like this: thousand - million - milliard - billion - billiard (in Denmark).


Wikipedia says "Some European languages such as Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, French, and German, use milliard (or a related word) for the short scale billion, and billion (or a related word) is used for the long scale billion. Thus for these languages billion is [a] thousand times larger than the modern English billion."

I'm told that "Euro-English" (the form of English sometimes used as a lingua franca between speakers of other European languages) uses "billion" to mean 1,000,000,000,000. Is this true?

 
suze
1257098.  Sat Oct 21, 2017 3:18 pm Reply with quote

Dix wrote:
I grew up with x1000 names like this: thousand - million - milliard - billion - billiard (in Denmark).


If billiard is the Danish for 10^15, what is the Danish for billiards? Or don't you play it?

 
crissdee
1257113.  Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:10 pm Reply with quote

Perhaps they play it on a reeeeaaaallllly big table, with lots of balls!

 
GuyBarry
1257139.  Sun Oct 22, 2017 4:45 am Reply with quote

This article is pretty comprehensive on the use of the two different number naming systems across the world:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_and_short_scales

Doesn't say what the Danish call billiards though :-)

 
suze
1257151.  Sun Oct 22, 2017 6:46 am Reply with quote

It looks as if it might be billard without the middle <i>, but I shall let our resident Dane confirm or otherwise.


Meanwhile, a question. In the short scale, one billion is one thousand million, and one trillion is one thousand million. Accordingly, the short scale trillion is equal to the long scale billion, being one million million.

But that page asserts that the long scale trillion was equal to one million long scale billion. Was that always the understanding? I seem to have a vague recollection of thinking - as a small person - that a "British trillion" was one billion "British billion" ie 10^24. Was it ever thus, or did I make that up?

 
GuyBarry
1257174.  Sun Oct 22, 2017 9:57 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
I seem to have a vague recollection of thinking - as a small person - that a "British trillion" was one billion "British billion" ie 10^24. Was it ever thus, or did I make that up?


I can't find any evidence for that. Here's the OED Online:

OED Online wrote:
The terms billion, trillion, quadrillion, etc., up to nonillion, are explained by N. Chuquet, in his Triparty de la Science des Nombres (lf. 2 r) printed in Bullettino di Bibliografia e di Storia delle Scienze Matematiche XIII. 593 (Roma 1880); also in the Arismetique of Ét. de la Roche, 1520. Both of these early writers explain billion, trillion, etc. as successive powers of a million, the trillion being the third power of a million, ‘a million of millions of millions’, as formerly always used in England. According to Littré, it was only in the middle of the 17th c. that the ‘erroneous’ custom was established of dividing series of figures above a million into groups of three, and calling a thousand millions a billion, and a million millions a trillion, an entire perversion of the nomenclature of Chuquet and De la Roche.


Under the long scale system, 10^24 would be a "quadrillion" - the fourth power of a million. (In the short scale system, it's a "septillion".)

 
Dix
1257187.  Sun Oct 22, 2017 11:31 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
It looks as if it might be billard without the middle <i>, but I shall let our resident Dane confirm or otherwise.

Correct.
But always pronounced as if the middle "i" was there. There is very little difference in pronounciation. The stress is on "bi" in the game, but on "ard" in the large number, but it's not a very marked stress.
Just one of those things.

<edited because I was talking nonsense before>

 

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