The ‘magnitude’ of a mathematical object is its size: a property by which it can be larger or smaller than other objects of the same kind. If two things, an elephant and a rhinoceros for example, have the same order of magnitude they are similar in size. Conversely, an elephant is many orders of magnitude smaller than, for example, a planet.

Orders of magnitude are generally used to make very approximate comparisons. If two numbers differ by one order of magnitude, one is about ten times larger than the other. If they differ by two orders of magnitude, they differ by a factor of about 100. The ‘orders’ describe exponential change (by powers of ten).

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