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What’s the smallest number? One, right? Well, actually, it’s zero. Let’s zero in on zero, so you can say, “I just learned something about nothing!”

Thursday, April 20, 2017

W hat’s the smallest number? One, right? Well, actually, it’s zero. The absence of numbers. It’s a funny concept, that a simple, oval digit — which, just to confuse matters, looks exactly like a letter of the alphabet and means nothing.

Let’s zero in on this unusual number and hopefully discover something new, and even if you do read something new, you can still say, “I just learned something about nothing!”

You know how sometimes you need a zero in the middle of a number? Say, 208? Some people would just leave a space and keep going, but that started getting confusing… Suddenly, 208 didn’t look so different from 2008 (where there were two spaces). Eventually, the Babylonians developed a symbol for zero, but only within a different number, not in its own place.

Years later, the first person to suggest that maybe zero had a value on its own was an Indian mathematician called Brahmagupta (c. 598 CE – after 665). At first, he called it shûnya (Sanskrit for “void” or “emptiness”), and he’d show zero by drawing small dots.

The Indians were the first to develop a consistent use of the zero. By the ninth century, the zero had entered the Arabic numeral system in the oval shape we’re familiar with today.

It’s not positive and it’s not negative. •

If you add zero to any number, the number stays the same. If you subtract zero from any number, the number stays the same. •

If you multiply any number by zero, you get zero. •

Any number raised to the power of zero is one. For example, so 20=1. •

You cannot divide a number by zero. You cannot take the zero-eth root of a number. There’s no such thing as 00! •

If you have a zero remainder in a division, then you have a whole number as an answer.

Let’s look around the world for nothing and see what we can find.

Look at a world globe. Put your finger on zero degrees latitude (the line designating the equator and dividing the earth into the northern and southern hemispheres) and then find where it meets zero degrees longitude (also known as the prime meridian). Right there. You’re looking at Null Island.

But wait, before you call your travel agent and make him laugh so hard he falls off his chair… how closely did you look? Zero degrees latitude and zero degrees longitude is just going to have you pointing at something in the Atlantic Ocean. Yup, it’s a fictional island — there’s nothing at those coordinates except a weather observation buoy (part of the Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Atlantic, better known as PIRATA.) (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 656)

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