Friday Fave: Space Separators

17 May 2019

The Friday Fave is enjoying some late spring warmth and sunshine, and did you know that sunshine comes from 149600000000 meters away?

It’s pretty hard to read that number isn’t it? This next version might be easier: 149 600 000 000. Quite recently, our graphing calculator began inserting those spaces in large numbers. It also began accepting spaces you type yourself.

Animation demonstrating the spaces that appear every three digits when typing a multidigit number

Now, if you’re in North America you may be wondering why we don’t use commas; if you’re in much of the rest of the world you may be wondering why don’t use periods, and the answer is that those symbols already have meaning in our system.

A comma separates elements in a list, such as in an ordered pair. We use periods for decimal points, and besides there’s nothing mathematically correct or incorrect about any of these possibilities. 10000 and 10,000 and 10 000 are all the same number, just written in ways that are more or less easy for human beings to interpret.

You’ll see spaces in large numbers in all of our calculators and in the activities at teacher.desmos.com as the result of a quiet update we spent time designing and polishing to make your and your students’ experiences with large numbers just a bit more pleasant.