The world is generating so much data that new units of measurement have been created to keep up

As more and more digital data is created and stored, the world needs more standard measurements to keep up with ever-increasing numbers.

To that end, the 27th General Conference on Weights and Measures introduced four new prefixes to the International System of Units, or metric system, on Friday: ronna (27 zeros after the first digit) and quetta (30 zeros), which are now at the top end of the Measuring range and Ronto (27 zeros after the decimal point) and Quecto (30 zeros), which are now at the bottom.

“Most people are familiar with prefixes like milligrams as in milligrams,” Richard Brown, head of metrology at Britain’s National Physical Laboratory, who proposed the four new prefixes, told The Associated Press. “But these [new additions] are prefixes for the highest and lowest levels ever measured.”

Yotta (24 zeros) was the largest prefix in the metric system before the newcomers. Now it can be said that the mass of the earth is about 6 ronnagrams instead of 6,000 yottagrams. The sun can be said to have about 2,000 quettagrams instead of 2,000,000,000 yottagrams.

The new prefixes come at a time when scientists and industry are grappling with data that requires measurements beyond the current range.

“The change was largely driven by the growing demands of data science and digital storage, which already use prefixes at the top of the existing range (yottabytes and zettabytes to express vast amounts of digital information),” the National Physical Laboratory said in a statement.

According to market research group International Data Corporation, by 2025 the world is expected to have generated approximately 175 zettabytes (21 zeros) of data.

The small number prefixes (ronto and quecto) will be useful for quantum science and particle physics, the NPL said. The mass of an electron is about 1 rontogram instead of 0.001 yoctogram (the smallest prefix before the newcomers).

According to the National Physical Laboratory, this is the first expansion of the measurement system since 1991.

“R” and “Q” stand for Ronna and Quecta, while “r” and “q” stand for Ronto and Quecto. Brown told The Associated Press that these letters were chosen because they were not already used by other prefixes.

“It was high time. [We] need new words when things expand,” Brown said. “In just a few decades, the world has become a very different place.”

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