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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Who wants to be a trillionaire?
Abacus (BBC)
How many did you say?
We are entering the age of the trillion but who apart from seasoned number crunchers knows what it is?

Mortgage debt in the UK is nearly a trillion pounds while computers can store terabytes.

Yet making this number meaningful to ordinary people is a major challenge.

Michael Blastland, series producer for BBC Radio 4's More Or Less programme, and his team are rising to the challenge.

Although there are still those who argue over the US and "former UK" definitions of figures such as a billion and trillion, according to Michael there is now basic agreement that a trillion is a thousand billion and a billion is a thousand million.

"When you hear a politician, business leader of economist using the word trillion, they are talking about a number with 12 zeros," he said.

So what does a trillion look like?

"It is estimated you can get 50,000 pennies into a cubic foot - a trillion pennies would fill two St Paul's Cathedrals."

Alternatively you may want to compare a million to a trillion by placing a credit card next to Ben Nevis.

Then again you can illustrate the scale of this number by comparing the fact that a million seconds equals 11.5 days, a billion seconds is 32 years and a trillion is 32,000 years.

Or, if your brain has not exploded already, there is another calculation you can make, according to Michael.

"If you take the typical annual salary as 25,000 a year - how long would it take you to spend a trillion pounds if you spent 25,000 a day.

"The answer is 109,000 years."

BBC Radio 4's More or Less was broadcast on Monday, 7 May, at 1630 BST


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