Orders of magnitude (time)
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An order of magnitude of time is usually a decimal prefix or decimal order-of-magnitude quantity together with a base unit of time, like a microsecond or a million years. In some cases, the order of magnitude may be implied (usually 1), like a "second" or "year". In other cases, the quantity name implies the base unit, like "century". In most cases, the base unit is seconds or years.
Prefixes are not usually used with a base unit of years. Therefore, it is said "a million years" instead of "a mega year". Clock time and calendar time have duodecimal or sexagesimal orders of magnitude rather than decimal, e.g., a year is 12 months, and a minute is 60 seconds.
The smallest meaningful increment of time is the Planck time―the time light takes to traverse the Planck distance, many decimal orders of magnitude smaller than a second.
The largest realized amount of time, based on known scientific data, is the age of the universe, about 13.8 billion years—the time since the Big Bang as measured in the cosmic microwave background rest frame. Those amounts of time together span 60 decimal orders of magnitude. Metric prefixes are defined spanning 10−24 to 1024, 48 decimal orders of magnitude which may be used in conjunction with the metric base unit of second.
Metric units of time larger than the second are most commonly seen only in a few scientific contexts such as observational astronomy and materials science, although this depends on the author. For everyday use and most other scientific contexts, the common units of minutes, hours (3,600 s or 3.6 ks), days (86,400 s), weeks, months, and years (of which there are a number of variations) are commonly used. Weeks, months, and years are significantly variable units whose length depend on the choice of calendar and are often not regular even with a calendar, e.g., leap years versus regular years in the Gregorian calendar. This makes them problematic for use against a linear and regular time scale such as that defined by the SI, since it is not clear which version is being used.
Because of this, the table below does not include weeks, months, and years. Instead, the table uses the annum or astronomical Julian year (365.25 days of 86,400 seconds), denoted with the symbol a. Its definition is based on the average length of a year according to the Julian calendar, which has one leap year every four years. According to the geological science convention, this is used to form larger units of time by the application of SI prefixes to it; at least up to giga-annum or Ga, equal to 1,000,000,000 a (short scale: one billion years, long scale: one milliard years).
Less than one second
|Unit||Symbol||Definition||Comparative examples & common units|
|10−44||Planck time||tP||Presumed to be the shortest theoretically measurable time interval|
(but not necessarily the shortest increment of time—see quantum gravity)
|10−20 ys: One Planck time tP = ≈ 5.39×10−44 s is the briefest physically meaningful span of time. It is the unit of time in the natural units system known as Planck units.|
|10−24||yoctosecond||ys||Yoctosecond, (yocto- + second), is one septillionth of a second||0.3 ys: mean lifetime of W and Z bosons|
23 ys: Lower estimated bound on the half-life of isotope 7 of hydrogen (Hydrogen-7)
156 ys: mean lifetime of a Higgs Boson
|10−21||zeptosecond||zs||Zeptosecond, (zepto- + second), is one sextillionth of one second||2 zs: representative cycle time of gamma ray radiation released in the decay of a radioactive atomic nucleus (here as 2 MeV per emitted photon)|
4 zs: cycle time of the zitterbewegung of an electron ()
247 zs: an experimentally-measured travel time of a photon across a hydrogen molecule, "for the average bond length of molecular hydrogen"
|10−18||attosecond||as||One quintillionth of one second||12 as: best timing control of laser pulses.|
43 as: shortest laser pulse
|10−15||femtosecond||fs||One quadrillionth of one second||1 fs: Cycle time for 300-nanometre light; ultraviolet light; light travels 0.3 micrometres (µm).|
140 fs: Electrons have localized onto individual bromine atoms 6Å apart after laser dissociation of Br2.
290 fs: Lifetime of a tauon
|10−12||picosecond||ps||One trillionth of one second||1 ps: mean lifetime of a bottom quark; light travels 0.3 millimeters (mm)|
1 ps: typical lifetime of a transition state
4 ps: Time to execute one machine cycle by an IBM silicon-germanium transistor
109 ps: Period of the photon corresponding to the hyperfine transition of the ground state of cesium-133, and one 9,192,631,770th of one second by definition
114.6 ps: Time for the fastest overclocked processor as of 2014 to execute one machine cycle.
|10−9||nanosecond||ns||One billionth of one second||1 ns: Time to execute one machine cycle by a 1 GHz microprocessor|
1 ns: Light travels 30 cm (12 in)
|10−6||microsecond||µs||One millionth of one second||1 µs: Time to execute one machine cycle by an Intel 80186 microprocessor|
2.2 µs: Lifetime of a muon
4–16 µs: Time to execute one machine cycle by a 1960s minicomputer
|10−3||millisecond||ms||One thousandth of one second||1 ms: time for a neuron in human brain to fire one impulse and return to rest|
4–8 ms: typical seek time for a computer hard disk
|10−2||centisecond||cs||One hundredth of one second||1–2 cs (=0.01–0.02 s): Human reflex response to visual stimuli|
1.6667 cs period of a frame at a frame rate of 60 Hz.
2 cs: cycle time for European 50 Hz AC electricity
|10−1||decisecond||ds||One tenth of a second||1–4 ds (=0.1–0.4 s): Blink of an eye|
One second and longer
In this table, large intervals of time surpassing one second are catalogued in order of the SI multiples of the second as well as their equivalent in common time units of minutes, hours, days, and Julian years.
|Multiple of a second||Unit||Symbol||Common units||Comparative examples & common units|
(1 das = 10 s)
|6 das: one minute (min), the time it takes a second hand to cycle around a clock face|
(1 hs = 1 min 40 s = 100 s)
|2 hs (3 min 20 s): average length of the most popular YouTube videos as of January 2017|
5.55 hs (9 min 12 s): longest videos in above study
7.1 hs (11 m 50 s): time for a human walking at average speed of 1.4 m/s to walk 1 kilometre
|103||kilosecond||ks||minutes, hours, days|
(1 ks = 16 min 40 s = 1,000 s)
|1 ks: record confinement time for antimatter, specifically antihydrogen, in electrically neutral state as of 2011 |
1.8 ks: time slot for the typical situation comedy on television with advertisements included
|106||megasecond||Ms||weeks to years|
(1 Ms = 11 d 13 h 46 min 40 s = 1,000,000 s)
|1.6416 Ms (19 d): length of a "month" of the Baha'i calendar|
2.36 Ms (27.32 d): length of the true month, the orbital period of the Moon
|109||gigasecond||Gs||decades, centuries, millennia|
(1 Gs = over 31 years and 287 days = 1,000,000,000 s)
|1.5 Gs: Unix time as of Jul 14 02:40:00 UTC 2017. Unix time being the number of seconds since 1970-01-01T00:00:00Z ignoring leap seconds.|
2.5 Gs: (79 a): typical human life expectancy in the developed world
|1012||terasecond||Ts||millennia to geological epochs|
(1 Ts = over 31,600 years = 1,000,000,000,000 s)
| 3.1 Ts (100 ka): approximate length of a glacial period of the current Quaternary glaciation epoch|
31.6 Ts (1000 ka, 1 Ma): one mega-annum (Ma), or one million years
|1015||petasecond||Ps||geological eras, history of Earth and the Universe||2 Ps: approximate time since the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, believed to be caused by the impact of a large asteroid into Chicxulub in modern-day Mexico. This extinction was one of the largest in Earth's history and marked the demise of most dinosaurs, with the only known exception being the ancestors of today's birds.|
7.9 Ps (250 Ma): approximate time since the Permian-Triassic extinction event, the actually largest known mass extinction in Earth history which wiped out 95% of all extant species and believed to have been caused by the consequences of massive long-term volcanic eruptions in the area of the Siberian Traps. Also, the approximate time to the supercontinent of Pangaea. Also, the length of one galactic year or cosmic year, the time required for the Sun to complete one orbit around the Milky Way Galaxy.
|1018||exasecond||Es||future cosmological time||All times of this length and beyond are currently theoretical as they surpass the elapsed lifetime of the known universe.|
1.08 Es (+34 Ga): time to the Big Rip according to some models, but this is not favored by existing data. This is one possible scenario for the ultimate fate of the Universe. Under this scenario, dark energy increases in strength and power in a feedback loop that eventually results in the tearing apart of all matter down to subatomic scale due to the rapidly increasing negative pressure thereupon
|1021||zettasecond||Zs||3 Zs (+100 000 Ga): The remaining time until the end of Stelliferous Era of the universe under the heat death scenario for the ultimate fate of the Universe which is the most commonly-accepted model in the current scientific community. This is marked by the cooling-off of the last low-mass dwarf star to a black dwarf. After this time has elapsed, the Degenerate Era begins.|
9.85 Zs (311 000 Ga): The entire lifetime of Brahma in Hindu mythology.
|1024 and onward||yottasecond and beyond||Ys and on||600 Ys (9×1018 a): The radioactive half-life of bismuth-209 by alpha decay, one of the slowest-observed radioactive decay processes.|
1.310019×1012 Ys (4.134105×1028 years): The time period equivalent to the value of 188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.0.0.0.0 in the Mesoamerican Long Count, a date discovered on a stela at the Coba Maya site, believed by archaeologist Linda Schele to be the absolute value for the length of one cycle of the universe
1029 Ys (3.2×1045 years): the largest possible value for the proton half-life, assuming that the Big Bang was inflationary and that the same process that made baryons predominate over antibaryons in the early Universe also makes protons decay
|6×101 seconds||1 minute||m|
|6×101 minutes||1 hour||h (hr)|
|2.4×101 hours||1 day||d|
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- Exploring Time from Planck time to the lifespan of the universe
Media files used on this page
This is a mosaic image, one of the largest ever taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, of the Crab Nebula, a six-light-year-wide expanding remnant of a star's supernova explosion. Japanese and Chinese astronomers recorded this violent event in 1054 CE, as did, almost certainly, Native Americans.
The orange filaments are the tattered remains of the star and consist mostly of hydrogen. The rapidly spinning neutron star embedded in the center of the nebula is the dynamo powering the nebula's eerie interior bluish glow. The blue light comes from electrons whirling at nearly the speed of light around magnetic field lines from the neutron star. The neutron star, like a lighthouse, ejects twin beams of radiation that appear to pulse 30 times a second due to the neutron star's rotation. A neutron star is the crushed ultra-dense core of the exploded star.
The Crab Nebula derived its name from its appearance in a drawing made by Irish astronomer Lord Rosse in 1844, using a 36-inch telescope. When viewed by Hubble, as well as by large ground-based telescopes such as the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, the Crab Nebula takes on a more detailed appearance that yields clues into the spectacular demise of a star, 6,500 light-years away.The newly composed image was assembled from 24 individual Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 exposures taken in October 1999, January 2000, and December 2000. The colors in the image indicate the different elements that were expelled during the explosion. Blue in the filaments in the outer part of the nebula represents neutral oxygen, green is singly-ionized sulfur, and red indicates doubly-ionized oxygen.
Author/Creator: ESO, European Southern Observatory, Licence: CC BY 4.0
Artist's impression of "the oldest star of our Galaxy": HE 1523-0901
- About 13.2 billion years old
- Approximately 7500 light years far from Earth
- Published as part of Hamburg/ESO Survey in the May 10 2007 issue of The Astrophysical Journal
This view of the rising Earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the Moon after the fourth nearside orbit. Earth is about five degrees above the horizon in the photo. The unnamed surface features in the foreground are near the eastern limb of the Moon as viewed from Earth. The lunar horizon is approximately 780 kilometers from the spacecraft. Width of the photographed area at the horizon is about 175 kilometers. On the Earth 240,000 miles away, the sunset terminator bisects Africa.
Sun Earth and Moon usual representation