We have come to add a trillion dollars to the United States deficit several times over in the last months without much thought, perhaps, in part, because few of us really know what a trillion is. We can say, of course, that it is a thousand billion, but, again imagination usually fails us.

Jerry Pacheco compared it to distance: “If we consider that the U.S. dollar bill is 6.14 inches long, 2.61 inches wide, and .0043 inches thick, we can come up with some astonishing statistics. If you stacked a billion dollar bills on top of each other, the stack would reach 67.9 miles. If you stacked a trillion dollar bills in the same manner, the column would reach 67,866 miles or comfortably into space.

“A billion dollar bills laid end to end would stretch 96,900 miles, winding around the Earth nearly four times. A trillion dollars laid in the same manner would stretch for 96,906,656 miles, a distance farther than the sun. If you laid one billion dollars side by side like tile, they would cover about four square miles. A trillion dollars laid out the same way would cover approximately 3,992 miles, or 1,000 square miles larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Finally, how long would it take to spend each amount? If you spent \$40 per second, around the clock, it would take you 289 days to exhaust a billion dollars. If you did the same thing with a trillion dollars, it would take you 792.5 years to go broke.”

One reader sent a letter to the editor of the New York Times comparing a trillion to seconds. Here’s the calculation: “Of course, I knew that a trillion is a thousand billion and that a billion is a thousand million. But I didn’t really understand what that means. Knowing there are 12 zeros in a trillion didn’t help much either.

“Why not think of it in terms of seconds, I asked myself? A trillion seconds would have to be years, probably many years ago. I made a wild guess. As it turned out, I wasn’t close. I found that 1,000 seconds ago was equal to almost 17 minutes. It would take almost 12 days for a million seconds to elapse and 31.7 years for a billion seconds. Therefore, a trillion seconds would amount to no less than 31,709.8 years.

“A trillion seconds ago, there was no written history. The pyramids had not yet been built. It would be 10,000 years before the cave paintings in France were begun, and saber-toothed tigers were still prowling the planet.

“I was stunned. At first I thought I must have made a mistake, but a banker friend checked my figures and pronounced them accurate.”

Yet perhaps the most astonishing explanation is this visual one from Global Research.

A million dollars in \$10,000 bills is manageable.

\$100 million makes a bigger pile.

\$1 billion begins to impress.

Take a deep breath, because here’s what \$1 trillion dollars looks like.