Friday, April 24, 2009

The MegaPenny Project

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The MegaPenny Project
by kokogiak media

Visualizing huge numbers can be very difficult. People regularly talk about millions of miles, billions of bytes, or trillions of dollars, yet it's still hard to grasp just how much a "billion" really is. The MegaPenny Project aims to help by taking one small everyday item, the U.S. penny, and building on that to answer the question: "What would a billion (or a trillion) pennies look like?"

All the following pages have tables at the bottom, listing things such as the value of the pennies, size of the pile, weight, and area (if laid flat). All weights and measurements are U.S. standards, not metric.

It's best to step through the project starting from the beginning, but if you'd like to just jump in, links are available below.

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One Penny


One penny. Most people in North America have seen them and you probably have one in your pocket right now.

Using this small metal disk, with a size and weight familiar to almost everyone, let's take the next step.

0.5625 square inches
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Sixteen Pennies



Every journey begins with a single step. So, to get to big numbers, you have to start small. Lay sixteen pennies in a line and you have one foot, stack them and you have an inch. Okay, so much for the small numbers - let's move up.

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One Thousand Pennies

[5 pennies wide x 5 pennies high x 40 pennies tall]

A thousand pennies is only $10.00 worth of pennies, yet it weighs over six pounds. Now let's put together a cubic foot made of these copper (3%) and zinc (97%) coins.

uare inches (3.9 square feet)
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Fifty Thousand Pennies

Forty-nine thousand one hundred and fifty-two Pennies
[16w x 16h x 192 tall] - one cubic foot.

Three hundred pounds of pennies. Remember the stack of 16 pennies? It was one inch tall. Well, take 12 of those and stack them and you'll have a one-foot-tall stack. The cube above is made up of 256 of those one-foot stacks, making one cubic foot of pennies.

Remember this cube, since it will be the building block for all upcoming penny-structures you see in these pages. Now let's double it.

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One Hundred Thousand Pennies

Ninety-eight thousand three hundred and four Pennies
[ Two cubic feet ]

Doubling our 50,000 pennies to 100,000, we now have two one-foot cubes. Given, this wasn't a big jump, but now we're going to start climbing the numerical ladder by powers of ten. Ever wonder what a million pennies would look like?

are feet
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One Million Pennies

One million, three thousand, seven hundred and seventy-six Pennies
[ A wall five by four by one feet thick with a 9-inch cube stepstool ]

Say hello to our friend Graham. Now that the pennies have really begun to pile up, he'll be standing in for scale. Graham is about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and he weighs about 180 pounds, or about 35 times less than the 1 million pennies stacked besidehim. Next step, Ten million.

re feet
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Ten Million Pennies

Ten million, seventeen thousand and twenty-four Pennies
[ A cube 6 x 6 x 6 feet ]

Ten Million cents. If you laid these all out flat, side-by-side, like a huge carpet of pennies, it would nearly cover one acre. Click here for a look at 100,000,000 copper disks.

29 square feet (0.9 acres)
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One Hundred Million Pennies


Since these cubes are mostly dense metal, their weight is impressive. One hundred million pennies weighs over 300 tons. For comparison, the largest living animal, the Blue Whale, weighs less than 150 tons as an adult.

When you hear talk of "billions" of something (dollars, miles, people, etc), it's hard to visualize. But up next, we have a visual for you - one billion pennies.

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One Billion Pennies


One billion, eighteen thousand, one hundred and seventy-six Pennies
[ Five school buses. ]

Each of these blocks represents one 9x11x41 foot school bus - as seen below. If you were to stack all these pennies in a single pile, one atop the other, the stack would reach nearly one thousand miles high. For comparison, note that the Space Shuttle typically orbits only 225 miles above the Earth's surface.

Only in North America and the general scientific community is this number (1,000,000,000) called a "billion". Most European countries call this number either "one thousand million" or, in some cases, a "milliard". Enough international confusion, let's move on to ten billion.

e feet (89.7 acres)
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Ten Billion Pennies


Current estimates place the world's population at six billion people. The pile of pennies above would then be nearly enough for two pennies for every person on Earth. The U.S.Mint currently manufactures about this many pennies every year.

In the image above, Graham and his ten billion coins are now standing on a standard U.S. football field (360 x 160 feet) for further scale. Next up, the hundred-billion cube.

97 a
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One Hundred Billion Pennies


One hundred billion, seventeen million, six hundred fifty-nine thousand three hundred and thirty-six Pennies
[ One cube measuring 127 x 127 x 127 feet ]

If you took these hundred billion pennies and laid them out like a carpet, you could cover 14 square miles. Compare that to Manhattan Island, which measures 22 square miles.

The cube you see above is made up of over 4.1 million stacks of 24,330 pennies. Now, we
are getting close to the limits of existing pennies. How many pennies do you think are
currently in circulation?

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Two Hundred Billion Pennies


Current estimates by the U.S. Mint place the number of pennies in circulation at aroun

140 billion. Others have estimated as many as 200 billion currently circulating. Since the
first penny was minted in 1787, until present-day, over 300 billion pennies have been minted in the United States. So that leaves about 100 billion pennies that have been retired by the Mint, lost down sewer drains, stored in jars, smashed by trains, or collected by numismatists in the past 200 years.

Now that we have reached the limits of what actually exists, let's move beyond, and into the Trillions.

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One Trillion Pennies


One trillion, sixteen thousand six hundred and forty Pennies
[ One cube measuring 273 x 273 x 273 feet ]

The same football field as the last two pages, set beside our new cube for scale. Notice our friend Graham, still barely visible as a speck at lower left.

Let's look at this new cube a little more closely to get a better idea of its size.

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One Trillion Pennies (part II)


One trillion, sixteen thousand six hundred and forty Pennies
[ One cube measuring 273 x 273 x 273 feet ]

From right to left (to scale), we have the same old football field, then the Lincoln Memorial (yes, the one pictured on the back of the penny), then the Washington Monument (555 feet tall), then our cube of one trillion pennies, then the Empire State Building (1,250 feet tall), then the Sears Tower (1,450 feet tall).

So, now, the question you're dying to ask: How many Pennies would it take to fill the Empire State Building?

5.2 acres
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The Empire State Building -- 1.8 Trillion Pennies


One trillion, eight hundred eighteen billion, six hundred
twenty-four million Pennies

New york's Empire State Building contains 37 million cubic feet of space (minus the antenna structure). Using our cubic foot of pennies (49,152 total), it's just a simple multiplication problem - 37,000,000 x 49,152 = 1,818,624,000,000 pennies.

Now what about America's tallest structure, the Sears Tower?

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The Sears Tower -- 2.6 Trillion Pennies


Two trillion, six hundred twenty-three billion, six
hundred eighty-four million six hundred and eight
thousand Pennies

Chicago's Sears Tower occupies 53.4 million cubic feet of space. Using our cubic foot of pennies (49,152 total), it's once again just another multiplication problem - 53,379,000 x 49,152 = 2,623,684,608,000 pennies.

Okay, enough with the buildings, let's take a giant leap forward. What would a cube of one quadrillion pennies look like?

235,279.3 acres
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One Quadrillion Pennies

One quadrillion, sixty-seven billion, eighty-eight million,
three hundred and eighty-four thousand Pennies
[ One cube measuring 2,730 x 2,730 x 2,730 feet ]

Here we have the buildings we used for scale back at a trillion, but they're now a bit dwarfed by our new cube of pennies. This is a quadrillion, or a thousand times one trillion. This cube is roughly a half-mile wide and would weigh an astonishing three billion tons.

Okay, now for our final big number - one quintillion.

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One Quintillion Pennies

One qullion, sixty-seven trillion, eighty-eight billion,
three hundred and eighty-four million Pennies
[ One cube measuring 27,300 x 27,300 x 27,300 feet ]

Now we've stepped up another factor of 1,000. One quintillion pennies. This many pennies, if laid out flat like a carpet, would cover the surface of the earth - twice. If you look hard, you can still see the Sears Tower and other buildings at lower right. Another way to see it is to realize that Mt. Everest (29,000 ft.) is only 1,700 feet taller than this 27,300-foot cube.

This is as far as we will go. Three trillion tons of pennies is quite enough. To imagine larger cubes, (stepping by factors of 1,000), just imagine cubes roughly ten times larger than
the last one. For instance, one quintillion pennies makes the cube above - about 5 miles on each side. If you step up to one sextillion, imagine a cube about 50 miles wide tall and thick.

Thanks for visiting the MegaPenny Project. You can find further related links and a table of named "very big numbers" on our index page.

89,675,160,698 acres

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