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SCIENCE FILE | I Didn't Know That

July 18, 1996

Q: What is the largest number?

A: Strictly speaking, there is no largest number because infinity is larger than all of them, and you can always add one (or anything else) to infinity. The largest named number is a googol, a term coined by the 9-year-old nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner. It is the number 1 with a hundred zeros after it. The number 1 with a googol of zeros after it is sometimes called a googolplex, although scientists rarely refer to it because even a googol is so vast that it has no counterpart in nature, and is therefore meaningless. The total number of particles in the universe, for example, is only about 1 followed by 80 zeros.

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