A decagonal snowflake from pentagons

So far in these posts about fractals, I’ve shown (1) how letting triangles reproduce like this:

tri-rule

generates a bunch of copes of the Koch snowflake at different scales:


koch-outlined

Similarly, I’ve shown (2) how letting squares reproduce like this:

quad-rule

generates a bunch of copies of a fractal related to the Koch snowflake, but with 8-fold symmetry:


octagon-snowflake
So what about letting pentagons reproduce?   For pentagons, an analog of the replication rules above is this:

penta-rule

Each of the 10 cute little pentagon children here is a factor of \frac{1}{2+\varphi} smaller than its parent, where \varphi is the golden ratio.

However, something interesting happens here that didn’t happen with the triangle and square rules. While triangles and squares overlap with their ancestors, pentagons overlap with both their ancestors and their cousins.  The trouble is that certain siblings already share faces (I know, the accidental metaphors here are getting troublesome too!), and so siblings’ children have to fight over territory:

penta-3gens

In this three-generation pentagon family portrait, you can see that each second generation pentagon has two children that overlap with a cousin.

As we carry this process further, we get additional collisions between second cousins, third cousins, and so on.  At five generations of pentagons, we start seeing some interestingly complex behavior develop from these collisions:

penta1 There’s a lot of fascinating structure here, and much of it is directly analogous to the 6-fold and 8-fold cases above, but there are also some differences, stemming from the “cousin rivalry” that goes on in pentagon society.

Let’s zoom in to see some collisions near where the two ‘wreaths’ meet on the right side of the picture:

penta1zoom

I find the complicated behavior at the collisions quite pretty, but the ordering issues (i.e. which members of a given generation to draw first when they overlap) annoy me somewhat, since they break the otherwise perfect decagonal symmetry of the picture.

If I were doing this for purely artistic purposes, I’d try resolving the drawing order issues to restore as much symmetry as possible. Of course, I could also cheat and restore symmetry completely by not filling in the pentagons, so that you can’t tell which ones I drew first:

penta1zoomed-outline

It’s cool seeing all the layers at once in this way, and it shows just how complex the overlaps can start getting after a few generations.

Anyway, because of these collisions, we don’t get seem to get a fractal tiling of the plane—at least, not like we got in the previous cases, where the plane simply keeps getting further subdivided into regions that converge to tiles of the same shape at different scales.

Actually, though, we still might get a fractal tiling of the plane, if the total area of overlap of nth generation pentagons shrinks to zero as n goes to infinity!  That would be cool.  But, I don’t know yet.

In any case, the picture generated by pentagons is in many ways very similar to the pictures generated by triangles and squares. Most importantly, all of the similar-looking octagonal flower shaped regions we see in this picture including the outer perimeter, the inner light-blue region, and tons of smaller ones:

penta1

really are converging to the same shape,  my proposal for the 10-fold rotationally symmetric analog of the Koch snowflake:

snowflake-deca

How do we know that all of these shapes are converging to the same fractal, up to rescaling?  We can get a nice visual proof by starting with two pentagons, one rotated and scaled down from the other, and then setting our replication algorithm loose on both of them:

Proof:

pentagon-proof

We see that the area between the two fractal curves in the middle shrinks closer to zero with each generation.

Puzzle for Golden Ratio Fans: What is the exact value of the scaling factor relating the two initial pentagons?

Next up in this infinite series of articles: hexagons!  …

I’m joking!  But, it’s fairly clear we can keep ascending this ladder to get analogs of the Koch snowflake generated by n-gons, with (2n)-fold rotational symmetry.  More nice features might be sacrificed as we go up; in the case generated by hexagons, we’d have collisions not only between cousins, but already between siblings.

2 Responses to “A decagonal snowflake from pentagons”

  1. John Baez Says:

    Your pentagon-decagon collisions remind me of this picture by Greg Egan:

    http://blogs.ams.org/visualinsight/2015/02/01/pentagon-decagon-packing/

    and even more this one:

    http://blogs.ams.org/visualinsight/2015/02/15/pentagon-decagon-branched-covering/

    which was based on our attempts to “solve the problem” of the nonexistent tiling of the plane by regular pentagons and decagons. The study of this problem goes back to Kepler, so it’s nice to see your new twist on it!

    • Derek Wise Says:

      Those are some cool pictures! I agree, they remind me of some of mine, even though the goals are clearly different.

      Using branched covers might be a nice way to resolve those pentagon collisions in my pictures as well!

      Over on Google+, Roice Nelson and I were discussing possibly related tactics for avoiding collisions in the hyperbolic plane, although I was suggesting using the hyperbolic tiling by decagons and pentagons obtained by truncating the {5,5} tiling, whereas your branched cover is related to the {5,10} tiling:

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