For the first time in more than three decades, new units of measurement have been added to the International System of Units (SI), the agreed global standard for the metric system.
Rona and kveta become the designations for the largest units of measurement, and ronto and kvekto for the smallest.
The change was voted on by scientists and government representatives from around the world attending the 27th General Conference on Weights and Measures, which governs the SI and is held roughly every four years at the Château de Versailles, west of Paris.
The United Kingdom’s National Physical Laboratory, which launched the initiative for the new units of measurement, confirmed that the resolution had been adopted.
This facilitates the expression of large quantities.
Since the SI was established in 1960, scientific necessity has led to an increasing number of measurement units. The last time in 1991, chemists introduced zeta and iota to express large molecular quantities more easily.
A jotameter is a unit followed by 24 zeros.
Even a mighty iota isn’t enough for the ever-increasing amount of data, according to Richard Brown, director of measurement units at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory.
“We are very close to the limit in terms of expressing data in the largest unit of measurement, iotabytes,” Brown told AFP.
“At the low end, it makes sense to have a symmetric spread, which is useful for quantum science, particle physics—when you’re measuring really, really small things.”
The new weight of the world
New units of measurement can simplify talking about some rather difficult objects.
“If we think about mass, instead of distance, the Earth weighs about six rhonograms,” which is a six followed by 27 zeros, Brown said.
“Jupiter about two kettagrams,” he added.
There are 30 zeros after the quetagram.
Brown said he got the idea for the update when he saw unapproved data storage units such as brontobytes and helabytes being used.
Google has been using “helabytes” since 2010.
Those were terms that were unofficially in circulation, so it was clear that SI had to do something, he said.
However, metric prefixes should be abbreviated to their first letter only. B and H are already taken, which rules out “bronto” and “hela”.
“The only letters that weren’t used for other units or other symbols were R and Q,” Brown said.
Convention dictates that larger prefixes end in A and smaller prefixes end in O.
And “the middle of the word is very, very fundamentally based on the Greek and Latin for nine and 10,” Brown said.
The new units of measurement should “secure the system for the future” and meet the world’s need for higher numbers, at least for the next 20 to 25 years, he added.