Monday, September 17, 2007

Google and googol

Incorporated nine years ago, Google’s market cap is now $165 billion, seven times more than just three years ago, when it went public. Still, $20 million for sending a traveling rover to the moon, which is what Google offered last week, is a big number.

But it’s a lot smaller than the number “googol”, spelled googol as opposed to Google for the company name, which is defined as the number one followed by one hundred zeroes. The term was invented by mathematician Edward Kasner’s nephew in 1920.

A googol is larger than the number of atoms in the observable universe, and it is estimated that a supermassive black hole will need a googol years to evaporate from Hawking radiation. A googol is slightly less than 70 factorial, which means that there are more than a googol ways to order just 70 people or objects.

The company’s headquarters is known as the Googleplex. Googolplex – with an ol and not an le – is also a number: it’s a one followed by googol zeroes. Carl Sagan wrote that it would be impossible to write the number googolplex because even using 1 point type it would take more space than exists in the universe.

That $20 million Google Lunar X Prize? It’s unlikely to be won. You only have a little over five years to win it. And with the way gas prices have been going, the money may not even cover the fuel cost.

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