Just How Big Is A Billion?

It's a giant figure we hear a lot, but what does it mean? A billion hours ago, humans were in the Stone Age. And if every American got an equal share of $1 billion, we'd each get just over $3.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And that brings us to our last word in Business, think billions, as in Zillow. Yesterday we reported that the real-estate website just bought rival Trulia for three and a half billion dollars.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Congress will spend $17 billion to overhaul the VA system.

MONTAGNE: And LA the Clippers will sell for $2 billion.

WERTHEIMER: We could go on. Basically, it's a giant figure. We hear it a lot, but just how big is a billion?

MONTAGNE: OK, let's start by agreeing that a billion is a thousand million - nine zeros. Here's some perspective from a presentation by the Science Museum of Virginia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A billion miles could get you from Earth to well beyond Saturn, and a billion seconds is 31 years, eight months and 12 days.

WERTHEIMER: How about this? A billion hours ago, humans were in the Stone Age.

MONTAGNE: If a billion dollars was distributed evenly to every American, we'd each get $3.

WERTHEIMER: And when you're talking money, the scale can be hard to grasp, even by Doctor Evil in the Austin Powers movies. In this clip, the maniacal villain suggests to his co-conspirators that they hold the world ransom for $1 million.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY")

ROBERT WAGNER: (As Number 2) A million dollars isn't exactly a lot of money these days.

MIKE MYERS: (As Dr. Evil) OK, then. We hold the world ransom for $100 billion.

WERTHEIMER: That's more like it. And that's the Business News on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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