A googol is the large number 10100. In decimal notation, it is written as the digit 1 followed by one hundred zeroes: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. The term was coined in 1920 by 9-year-old Milton Sirotta (1911–1981), nephew of U.S. mathematician Edward Kasner. Kasner popularized the concept in his 1940 book Mathematics and the Imagination. Other names for googol include ten duotrigintillion on the short scale, ten thousand sexdecillion on the long scale, or ten sexdecilliard on the Peletier long scale.
A googol has no special significance in mathematics. However, it is useful when comparing with other very large quantities such as the number of subatomic particles in the visible universe or the number of hypothetical possibilities in a chess game. Kasner used it to illustrate the difference between an unimaginably large number and infinity, and in this role it is sometimes used in teaching mathematics. To give a sense of how big a googol really is, the mass of an electron, just under 10−30 kg, can be compared to the mass of the visible universe, estimated at between 1050 and 1060 kg. It is a ratio in the order of about 1080 to 1090, or at most one ten-billionth of a googol (0.00000001% of a googol).
Carl Sagan pointed out that the total number of elementary particles in the universe is around 1080 (the Eddington number) and that if the whole universe were packed with neutrons so that there would be no empty space anywhere, there would be around 10128. He also noted the similarity of the second calculation to that of Archimedes in The Sand Reckoner. By Archimedes’s calculation, the universe of Aristarchus (roughly 2 light years in diameter), if fully packed with sand, would contain 1063 grains. If the much larger observable universe of today were filled with sand, it would still only equal 1095 grains. Another 100,000 observable universes filled with sand would be necessary to make a googol.
The decay time for a supermassive black hole of roughly 1 galaxy-mass (1011 solar masses) due to Hawking radiation is on the order of 10100 years. Therefore, the heat death of an expanding universe is lower-bounded to occur at least one googol years in the future.
Widespread sounding of the word occurs through the name of the company Google, with the name “Google” being an accidental misspelling of “googol” by the company’s founders, which was picked to signify that the search engine was intended to provide large quantities of information. In 2004, family members of Kasner, who had inherited the right to his book, were considering suing Google for their use of the term googol; however, no suit was ever filed.