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How Long Is 1 Trillion Seconds?
Kirt's Cogitations™ #327

RF Cafe University"Factoids," "Kirt's Cogitations," and "Tech Topics Smorgasbord" are all manifestations of my ranting on various subjects relevant (usually) to the overall RF Cafe theme. All may be accessed on these pages:

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Engineers are entirely comfortable with numbers multiplied by very large powers of 10; that is, with many trailing (or leading if a decimal) zeros after the significant figures. A terahertz is 1 x 1012 Hz, or 1 followed by twelve zeros, or 1,000,000,000,000 Hz. A picosecond is 1 x 10-12 s, or eleven zeros between the decimal point and the one, or 0.000000000001 s. The mass of the sun is approximately 1.9885×1030 kg, or 1,988,500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg. The mass of an electron is approximately 9.10938×10-31 kg, or 0.000000000000000000000000000000910938 kg. We don't even break a sweat when punching those kinds of numbers into a calculator. We're used to it.

When most laypeople these days hear politicians nonchalantly toss around figures in the trillions of dollars regarding a country's deficit or planned new spending packages, or the net worth of Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Tesla's Elon Musk, and Donald Trump, they have no concept of how big the numbers are. The largest denomination paper money they've ever seen is the $500 bill in the Monopoly board game, and since 1969, the largest denomination paper money circulated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury has been the $100 bill (worth 14¢ in 2021 after inflation - a $500 bill in 2021 would have less purchasing power than a $100 bill in 1969).

Politicians eager to placate the yearnings by citizens (and non-citizens for that matter) for government largess across the country and across the globe, themselves are largely ignorant of the significance of trillion-dollar budgets, which are funded not by an increase in real wealth or intrinsic value but by someone at the Federal Reserve Bank clicking his/her mouse pointer on a computer screen button. The magically created "money" is born in the form of debt to some institution, most of which are bean counter pseudo entities created specifically to bear the "debt." At this point, of course, nobody expects the debt to ever be paid. The government has done a good job of purging citizens' minds of the concept of responsible spending and honoring a debt owed. Living within one's means (aka real earnings) is clearly discouraged as evidenced by sub-3% home mortgages and sub-1% earning on cash savings. Meanwhile, housing prices and the cost of essential subsistence items goes up and up and up. Not to worry, though, your elected (by hook or by crook) representative will vote to funnel more money to feed the economy.

As a sanity check on just how large the number one trillion is, consider how long 1,000,000,000,000 seconds of time is. If you don't know already, take a guess. 10 years? 100 years? Would it reach back to World War II (1939-1945 AD), World War I (1914-1918 AD), the Civil War (1861-1865 AD), the Revolutionary War (1775-1783 AD)? Oh yeah, but farther back that any of those. How about the birth of Isaac Newton (1643), Galileo Galilei (1564 AD), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 AD), Claudius Ptolemy (100 AD), or even Jesus Christ (0)? You'll have to go farther back than that, even.

3rd Millennium BC Map (Wikipedia) - RF CafeTo figure out how far back in time one trillion seconds is, we need a little math (at the risk of exhibiting White Supremecy, I show my work). There are 60 seconds in a minute; 3,600 seconds in an hour; and 86,400 seconds in a year. The currently agreed-upon length of the average sidereal year (365.256363004 days, or 365 days 6 hours 9 minutes 9.76 seconds) will be used to avoid complications of leap seconds, leap years, and the gradual slowing of the Earth's rotation over time due to gravitational tidal forces.

One trillion seconds, then, represents approximately the following:

1 Trillion Seconds in Years - RF Cafe 

2021 AD - 31,687 years = -29,666, aka 29666 BC

That predates the birth of Archimedes of Syracuse (287 BC), Pythagoras of Samos (570 BC), and Tutankhamun ("King Tut", 1342 BC) by a thousands of millennia. In fact, the 30th millennium BC was part of the Stone Age.

Returning back to an engineer's perspective, a 1 picohertz sinewave that began oscillating in 29666 BC would just now be completing its first cycle. You heard it here first.

Thanks to RF Cafe visitor Bob for pointing out my subtraction mistake, which has been fixed.



Posted April 29, 2021

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