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Length is a measure of
distance Distance is a numerical measurement ' Measurement is the number, numerical quantification (science), quantification of the variable and attribute (research), attributes of an object or event, which can be used to compare with other objects or eve ...

distance
. In the
International System of Quantities The International System of Quantities (ISQ) consists of the quantities Quantity is a property that can exist as a Counting, multitude or Magnitude (mathematics), magnitude, which illustrate discontinuity (mathematics), discontinuity and continu ...
, length is a
quantity Quantity is a property that can exist as a multitude or magnitude, which illustrate discontinuity and continuity. Quantities can be compared in terms of "more", "less", or "equal", or by assigning a numerical value in terms of a unit of measu ...
with
dimension In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular s ...
distance. In most
systems of measurement A system of measurement is a collection of units of measurement A unit of measurement is a definite magnitude (mathematics), magnitude of a quantity, defined and adopted by convention or by law, that is used as a standard for measurement of ...
a base unit for length is chosen, from which all other units are derived. In the
International System of Units The International System of Units, known by the international abbreviation SI in all languages and sometimes Pleonasm#Acronyms_and_initialisms, pleonastically as the SI system, is the modern form of the metric system and the world's most wi ...
(SI) system the base unit for length is the
metre The metre ( Commonwealth spelling) or meter (American spelling Despite the various English dialects spoken from country to country and within different regions of the same country, there are only slight regional variations in English o ...
. Length is commonly understood to mean the most extended
dimension In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular s ...

dimension
of a fixed object. However, this is not always the case and may depend on the position the object is in. Various terms for the length of a fixed object are used, and these include
height 200px, A cuboid demonstrating the dimensions length, width">length.html" ;"title="cuboid demonstrating the dimensions length">cuboid demonstrating the dimensions length, width, and height. Height is measure of vertical distance, either vertical ...

height
, which is vertical length or vertical extent, and width, breadth or depth. Height is used when there is a base from which vertical measurements can be taken. Width or breadth usually refer to a shorter dimension when length is the longest one. Depth is used for the third dimension of a three dimensional object. Length is the measure of one spatial dimension, whereas
area Area is the quantity Quantity is a property that can exist as a multitude or magnitude, which illustrate discontinuity and continuity. Quantities can be compared in terms of "more", "less", or "equal", or by assigning a numerical value in ...

area
is a measure of two dimensions (length squared) and
volume Volume is a scalar quantity expressing the amount Quantity or amount is a property that can exist as a multitude Multitude is a term for a group of people who cannot be classed under any other distinct category, except for their shared fact ...

volume
is a measure of three dimensions (length cubed).


History

Measurement has been important ever since humans settled from nomadic lifestyles and started using building materials, occupying land and trading with neighbours. As trade between different places increased, the need for standard units of length increased. And later, as society has become more technologically oriented, much higher accuracy of measurement is required in an increasingly diverse set of fields, from micro-electronics to interplanetary ranging. Under
Einstein Albert Einstein ( ; ; 14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest physicists of all time. Einstein is known for developing the theory of relativity The theory ...

Einstein
's
special relativity In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular s ...
, length can no longer be thought of as being constant in all
reference frame In physics, a frame of reference (or reference frame) consists of an abstract coordinate system In geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ''wikt:γῆ, geo-'' "earth", ''wikt:μέτρον, -metron'' "measurement") is, wi ...
s. Thus a
ruler A ruler, sometimes called a rule or line gauge, is a device used in geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ' "earth", ' "measurement") is, with , one of the oldest branches of . It is concerned with properties of spac ...
that is one metre long in one frame of reference will not be one metre long in a reference frame that is moving relative to the first frame. This means the length of an object varies depending on the speed of the observer.


Use in mathematics


Euclidean geometry

In Euclidean geometry, length is measured along
straight line 290px, A representation of one line segment. In geometry, the notion of line or straight line was introduced by ancient mathematicians to represent straight objects (i.e., having no curvature In mathematics, curvature is any of several str ...

straight line
s unless otherwise specified and refers to
segments
segments
on them.
Pythagoras's theorem
Pythagoras's theorem
relating the length of the sides of a
right triangle A right triangle (American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. Currently, American Eng ...

right triangle
is one of many applications in Euclidean geometry. Length may also be measured along other types of curves and is referred to as
arclength Arc length is the distance between two points along a section of a curve In mathematics, a curve (also called a curved line in older texts) is an object similar to a line (geometry), line, but that does not have to be Linearity, straight. In ...

arclength
. In a
triangle A triangle is a polygon In geometry, a polygon () is a plane (mathematics), plane Shape, figure that is described by a finite number of straight line segments connected to form a closed ''polygonal chain'' (or ''polygonal circuit''). The ...

triangle
, the length of an
altitude Altitude or height (also sometimes known as depth) is a distance measurement, usually in the vertical or "up" direction, between a reference and a point or object. The exact definition and reference datum varies according to the context (e.g. ...
, a line segment drawn from a vertex
perpendicular In elementary geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ' "earth", ' "measurement") is, with , one of the oldest branches of . It is concerned with properties of space that are related with distance, shape, size, and relativ ...

perpendicular
to the side not passing through the vertex (referred to as a
base Base or BASE may refer to: Brands and enterprises * Base (mobile telephony provider), a Belgian mobile telecommunications operator *Base CRM Base CRM (originally Future Simple or PipeJump) is an enterprise software company based in Mountain Vie ...
of the triangle), is called the height of the triangle. The
area Area is the quantity Quantity is a property that can exist as a multitude or magnitude, which illustrate discontinuity and continuity. Quantities can be compared in terms of "more", "less", or "equal", or by assigning a numerical value in ...

area
of a
rectangle In Euclidean geometry, Euclidean plane geometry, a rectangle is a quadrilateral with four right angles. It can also be defined as: an equiangular quadrilateral, since equiangular means that all of its angles are equal (360°/4 = 90°); or a para ...

rectangle
is defined to be length × width of the rectangle. If a long thin rectangle is stood up on its short side then its area could also be described as its height × width. The
volume Volume is a scalar quantity expressing the amount Quantity or amount is a property that can exist as a multitude Multitude is a term for a group of people who cannot be classed under any other distinct category, except for their shared fact ...

volume
of a
solid rectangular box
solid rectangular box
(such as a plank of wood) is often described as length × height × depth. The
perimeter A perimeter is either a path that encompasses/surrounds/outlines a shape (in two dimensions) or its length ( one-dimensional). The perimeter of a circle A circle is a shape consisting of all point (geometry), points in a plane (mathema ...

perimeter
of a
polygon In geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ' "earth", ' "measurement") is, with , one of the oldest branches of . It is concerned with properties of space that are related with distance, shape, size, and relative position o ...

polygon
is the sum of the lengths of its sides. The
circumference In geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ' "earth", ' "measurement") is, with , one of the oldest branches of . It is concerned with properties of space that are related with distance, shape, size, and relative position ...
of a circular
disk Disk or disc may refer to: * Disk (mathematics) * Disk storage Music * Disc (band), an American experimental music band * Disk (album), ''Disk'' (album), a 1995 EP by Moby Other uses * Disc (galaxy), a disc-shaped group of stars * Disc (magazin ...
is the length of the
boundary Boundary or Boundaries may refer to: * Border, in political geography Entertainment *Boundaries (2016 film), ''Boundaries'' (2016 film), a 2016 Canadian film *Boundaries (2018 film), ''Boundaries'' (2018 film), a 2018 American-Canadian road trip ...
(a
circle A circle is a shape A shape or figure is the form of an object or its external boundary, outline, or external surface File:Water droplet lying on a damask.jpg, Water droplet lying on a damask. Surface tension is high enough to preven ...
) of that disk.


Other geometries

In other geometries, length may be measured along possibly curved paths, called
geodesic In geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ' "earth", ' "measurement") is, with , one of the oldest branches of . It is concerned with properties of space that are related with distance, shape, size, and relative position o ...

geodesic
s. The
Riemannian geometry#REDIRECT Riemannian geometry Riemannian geometry is the branch of differential geometry Differential geometry is a Mathematics, mathematical discipline that uses the techniques of differential calculus, integral calculus, linear algebra and m ...
used in
general relativity General relativity, also known as the general theory of relativity, is the geometric Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; '' geo-'' "earth", '' -metron'' "measurement") is, with arithmetic, one of the oldest branches of mathema ...
is an example of such a geometry. In
spherical geometry Image:Triangles (spherical geometry).jpg, 300px, The sum of the angles of a spherical triangle is not equal to 180°. A sphere is a curved surface, but locally the laws of the flat (planar) Euclidean geometry are good approximations. In a small tr ...
, length is measured along the
great circles Great may refer to: Descriptions or measurements * Great, a relative measurement in physical space, see Size File:Comparison of planets and stars (sheet by sheet) (Oct 2014 update).png, A size comparison illustration comparing the sizes of vario ...
on the sphere and the distance between two points on the sphere is the shorter of the two lengths on the great circle, which is determined by the plane through the two points and the center of the sphere.


Graph theory

In an unweighted graph, the length of a
cycle Cycle or cyclic may refer to: Anthropology and social sciences * Cyclic history, a theory of history * Cyclical theory, a theory of American political history associated with Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. * Social cycle, various cycles in social scienc ...
, path, or
walk Walking (also known as ambulation) is one of the main gait Gait is the pattern of movement Movement may refer to: Common uses * Movement (clockwork), the internal mechanism of a timepiece * Motion (physics), commonly referred to as move ...
is the number of
edge Edge or EDGE may refer to: Technology Computing * Edge computing Edge computing is a distributed computing paradigm that brings computation and data storage closer to the sources of data. This is expected to improve response times and save bandw ...
s it uses. In a
weighted graph This is a glossary of graph theory. Graph theory is the study of graph (discrete mathematics), graphs, systems of nodes or vertex (graph theory), vertices connected in pairs by lines or #edge, edges. Symbols A ...
, it may instead be the sum of the weights of the edges that it uses. Length is used to define the
shortest path In graph theory In mathematics, graph theory is the study of ''graph (discrete mathematics), graphs'', which are mathematical structures used to model pairwise relations between objects. A graph in this context is made up of ''Vertex (graph the ...

shortest path
,
girth Girth may refer to: ;Mathematics * Girth (functional analysis), the length of the shortest centrally symmetric simple closed curve on the unit sphere of a Banach space * Girth (geometry), the perimeter of a parallel projection of a shape * Girth (g ...
(shortest cycle length), and longest path between two vertices in a graph.


Measure theory

In measure theory, length is most often generalized to general sets of \mathbb^n via the
Lebesgue measureIn measure theory In mathematics, a measure on a set (mathematics), set is a systematic way to assign a number, intuitively interpreted as its size, to some subsets of that set, called measurable sets. In this sense, a measure is a generalization ...
. In the one-dimensional case, the Lebesgue outer measure of a set is defined in terms of the lengths of open intervals. Concretely, the length of an
open interval In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers ( and ), formulas and related structures (), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (), and quantities and their changes ( and ). There is no ge ...
is first defined as :\ell(\)=b-a. so that the Lebesgue outer measure \mu^*(E) of a general set E may then be defined as :\mu^*(E)=\inf\left\.


Units

In the physical sciences and engineering, when one speaks of , the word is synonymous with
distance Distance is a numerical measurement ' Measurement is the number, numerical quantification (science), quantification of the variable and attribute (research), attributes of an object or event, which can be used to compare with other objects or eve ...

distance
. There are several
units Unit may refer to: Arts and entertainment * UNIT Unit may refer to: Arts and entertainment * UNIT, a fictional military organization in the science fiction television series ''Doctor Who'' * Unit of action, a discrete piece of action (or beat) in ...
that are used to
measure
measure
length. Historically, units of length may have been derived from the lengths of human body parts, the distance traveled in a number of paces, the distance between landmarks or places on the Earth, or arbitrarily on the length of some common object. In the
International System of Units The International System of Units, known by the international abbreviation SI in all languages and sometimes Pleonasm#Acronyms_and_initialisms, pleonastically as the SI system, is the modern form of the metric system and the world's most wi ...
(SI), the
base unit
base unit
of length is the
metre The metre ( Commonwealth spelling) or meter (American spelling Despite the various English dialects spoken from country to country and within different regions of the same country, there are only slight regional variations in English o ...
(symbol, m) and is now defined in terms of the
speed of light The speed of light in vacuum A vacuum is a space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called paramet ...
(about 300 million metres per
second The second (symbol: s, also abbreviated: sec) is the base unit of time Time is the continued sequence of existence and event (philosophy), events that occurs in an apparently irreversible process, irreversible succession from the past, th ...
). The
millimetre 330px, Different lengths as in respect to the Electromagnetic spectrum, measured by the Metre and its deriveds scales. The Microwave are in-between 1 meter to 1 millimeter. The millimetre (American and British English spelling differences#-re, ...
(mm),
centimetre 330px, Different lengths as in respect to the Electromagnetic spectrum, measured by the Metre and its deriveds scales. The Microwave are in-between 1 meter to 1 millimeter. A centimetre (international spelling) or centimeter (American spellin ...
(cm) and the
kilometre The kilometre (SI symbol: km; or ), spelt kilometer in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties of the Eng ...
(km), derived from the metre, are also commonly used units. In U.S. customary units, English or Imperial system of units, commonly used units of length are the
inch Measuring tape with inches The inch (symbol: in or ″) is a unit Unit may refer to: Arts and entertainment * UNIT Unit may refer to: Arts and entertainment * UNIT, a fictional military organization in the science fiction television s ...
(in), the
foot The foot (plural: feet) is an anatomical Anatomy (Greek ''anatomē'', 'dissection') is the branch of biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemis ...
(ft), the
yard The yard (symbol: yd) is an English unit English units are the units of measurement A unit of measurement is a definite magnitude (mathematics), magnitude of a quantity, defined and adopted by convention or by law, that is used ...

yard
(yd), and the
mile The mile, sometimes the international mile or statute mile to distinguish it from other miles, is a British imperial unit and US customary unit United States customary units (U.S. customary units) are a system of measurements commonly u ...
(mi). A unit of length used in
navigation Navigation is a field of study that focuses on the process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another.Bowditch, 2003:799. The field of navigation includes four general categories: land navigation, ...

navigation
is the
nautical mile A nautical mile is a unit of length A unit of length refers to any arbitrarily chosen and accepted reference standard for measurement of length. The most common units in modern use are the metric system, metric units, used in every country gl ...
(nmi). Units used to denote distances in the vastness of space, as in
astronomy Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the science that studies the laws of the stars) is a natural science that studies astronomical object, celestial objects and celestial event, phenomena. It uses mathematics, phys ...
, are much longer than those typically used on Earth (metre or centimetre) and include the
astronomical unit The astronomical unit (symbol: au, or or AU) is a unit of length A unit of length refers to any arbitrarily chosen and accepted reference standard for measurement of length. The most common units in modern use are the metric system, metri ...

astronomical unit
(au), the
light-year A light-year, alternatively spelt lightyear, is a unit of length A unit of length refers to any arbitrarily chosen and accepted reference standard for measurement of length. The most common units in modern use are the metric system, metric un ...
, and the
parsec The parsec (symbol: pc) is a unit of length A unit of length refers to any arbitrarily chosen and accepted reference standard for measurement of length. The most common units in modern use are the metric system, metric units, used in every ...

parsec
(pc). Units used to denote sub-atomic distances, as in
nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in ot ...
, are much smaller than the centimetre. Examples include the
dalton Dalton may refer to: Science * Dalton (crater), a lunar crater * Dalton (program), chemistry software * Dalton (unit) (Da), the atomic mass unit Entertainment * Dalton (Buffyverse), minor character from ''Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' television s ...
and the
fermi Enrico Fermi (; 29 September 1901 – 28 November 1954) was an Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italia ...
.


See also

*
Conversion of units Conversion of units is the conversion between different units of measurement A unit of measurement is a definite magnitude Magnitude may refer to: Mathematics *Euclidean vector, a quantity defined by both its magnitude and its directi ...

Conversion of units
*
Humorous units of length
Humorous units of length
*
Length measurementLength measurement is implemented in practice in many ways. The most commonly used approaches are the transit-time methods and the interferometer methods based upon the speed of light. For objects such as crystals and diffraction gratings, diffractio ...
*
Metric system The metric system is a system of measurement A system of measurement is a collection of units of measurement and rules relating them to each other. Systems of measurement have historically been important, regulated and defined for the purpose ...

Metric system
*
Metric units Metric units are units Unit may refer to: Arts and entertainment * UNIT Unit may refer to: Arts and entertainment * UNIT, a fictional military organization in the science fiction television series ''Doctor Who'' * Unit of action, a discrete piece ...

Metric units
*
Orders of magnitude (length) The following are examples of orders of magnitude An order of magnitude is an approximation of the logarithm In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), ...
*
Reciprocal lengthReciprocal length or inverse length is a measurement ' Measurement is the number, numerical quantification (science), quantification of the variable and attribute (research), attributes of an object or event, which can be used to compare with other o ...


References

{{Authority control Physical quantities SI base quantities