In mathematics, magnitude is the size of a mathematical object, a property which determines whether the object is larger or smaller than other objects of the same kind. More formally, an object's magnitude is the displayed result of an ordering (or ranking) of the class of objects to which it belongs.
The Greeks distinguished between several types of magnitude, including:
- Positive fractions
- Line segments (ordered by length)
- Plane figures (ordered by area)
- Solids (ordered by volume)
- Angles (ordered by angular magnitude)
They proved that the first two could not be the same, or even isomorphic systems of magnitude. They did not consider negative magnitudes to be meaningful, and magnitude is still chiefly used in contexts in which zero is either the smallest size or less than all possible sizes.
The magnitude of any number is usually called its "absolute value" or "modulus", denoted by |x|.
The absolute value of a real number r is defined by:
Absolute value may be thought of as the number's distance from zero on the real number line. For example, the absolute value of both 70 and −70 is 70.
A complex number z may be viewed as the position of a point P in a 2-dimensional space, called the complex plane. The absolute value or modulus of z may be thought of as the distance of P from the origin of that space. The formula for the absolute value of z = a + bi is similar to that for the Euclidean norm of a vector in a 2-dimensional Euclidean space:
A Euclidean vector represents the position of a point P in a Euclidean space. Geometrically, it can be described as an arrow from the origin of the space (vector tail) to that point (vector tip). Mathematically, a vector x in an n-dimensional Euclidean space can be defined as an ordered list of n real numbers (the Cartesian coordinates of P): x = [x1, x2, ..., xn]. Its magnitude or length is most commonly defined as its Euclidean norm (or Euclidean length):
The Euclidean norm of a vector is just a special case of Euclidean distance: the distance between its tail and its tip. Two similar notations are used for the Euclidean norm of a vector x:
A disadvantage of the second notation is that it is also used to denote the absolute value of scalars and the determinants of matrices and therefore can be ambiguous.
By definition, all Euclidean vectors have a magnitude (see above). However, the notion of magnitude cannot be applied to all kinds of vectors.
A function that maps objects to their magnitudes is called a norm. A vector space endowed with a norm, such as the Euclidean space, is called a normed vector space. Not all vector spaces are normed.
In a pseudo-Euclidean space, the magnitude of a vector is the value of the quadratic form for that vector.
When comparing magnitudes, a logarithmic scale is often used. Examples include the loudness of a sound (measured in decibels), the brightness of a star, and the Richter scale of earthquake intensity. Logarithmic magnitudes can be negative. It is not meaningful to simply add or subtract them.
Order of magnitude
Orders of magnitude denote differences in numeric quantities, usually measurements, by a factor of 10—that is, a difference of one digit in the location of the decimal point.