Order of magnitude

An order of magnitude is an approximation of the logarithm of a value relative to some contextually understood reference value, usually 10, interpreted as the base of the logarithm and the representative of values of magnitude one. Logarithmic distributions are common in nature and considering the order of magnitude of values sampled from such a distribution can be more intuitive. When the reference value is 10, the order of magnitude can be understood as the number of digits in the base-10 representation of the value. Similarly, if the reference value is one of some powers of 2, since computers store data in a binary format, the magnitude can be understood in terms of the amount of computer memory needed to store that value.

Differences in order of magnitude can be measured on a base-10 logarithmic scale in “decades” (i.e., factors of ten).[1] Examples of numbers of different magnitudes can be found at Orders of magnitude (numbers).


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