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Avogadro's Number

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Dealing with Big Numbers

Dealing With Big Numbers

Credit: Justin DiPierro
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MolePhoto.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Right off the bat, this is not the mole that chemists talk about. We are interested in a unit of measurement that is commemorated every October 23. National Mole Day is celebrated in the U.S. and around the world to commemorate the discovery by Amadeo Avogadro of the concept that allowed us to determine how many particles there are in a mole of any substance. The day is celebrated with parties, meetings, and other enjoyable activities.

Amazing But True

  • The first personal computers that were sold in the 1980s had a memory capacity of 64 kilobytes (64K). Not that many years later, capacity was measured in megabytes (MB). Now memory storage of 16 gigabytes (GB) can be purchased for a flash drive for well under $50.00.
  • How many planets in the universe? We honestly don’t know for sure, but some astronomers are estimating that there are over eleven billion planets in the Milky Way. Astronomers are used to large numbers and often use shortcuts. One light-year is the distance light will travel in one year. That works out to be 5.88 \times 10^{12} miles. A distance unit frequently used is the parsec (3.26 light years or 1.92 \times 10^{13} miles).
  • Credit: European Southern Observatory
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/esoastronomy/6923443595/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    A panorama image of the milky way, which is only one galaxy in a universe with billions of galaxies [Figure2]

     

  • Back to our mole, it was determined that one mole of any substance contained 6.12 \times 10^{23} particles. One mole of sand would cover the entire state of Texas to a depth of well over two feet. That is the same number of particles in 18 grams of water.
  • Watch a video at the link below to hear a song about Mole Day (for the musically challenged, this is a take-off of the bluegrass number Wabash Cannonball):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8tKExafr9c

Show What You Know

Use the links below to learn more about big numbers. Then answer the following questions.

  1. How far might the nearest planet be from us?
  2. Did Avogadro actually calculate the value of a mole?
  3. How much water is in the oceans of the world?
  4. How much does the sun weigh?
  5. How wide is the sun?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Justin DiPierro; Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MolePhoto.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: European Southern Observatory; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/esoastronomy/6923443595/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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