20-Thex: A Four-Dimensional Polytope


The 20-Thex:  A Four-Dimensional Polytope

In hyperspace, or four-space, there are six regular polychora, analogous to the Platonic Solids in three-space. Beyond the Platonics in the study of polyhedra comes, of course, the Archimedean Solids, which include many truncated forms of Platonic polyhedra.

In hyperspace, there are varieties of progressively-less regular polychora, also, and one of these, in a group called the truncates, is called 20-thex, or simply the “thex.” (Those are short names for this polychoron; it’s also called the truncated hexadecachoron, or truncated 16-cell.) What you see above is a (seemingly) three-dimensional projection of a thex, as it rotates in hyperspace.

Just as polyhedra have polygons as faces, polychora have polyhedra as unit cells. This is the net for the thex. As you can see, the thex is composed of both truncated tetrahedra and octahedra.


Both of these images were created using Stella 4d, which you can try for yourself at http://www.software3d.com/Stella.php.




In three-dimensional space, there are five Platonic and thirteen Archimedean polyhedra, plus numerous other shapes, in several categories. The whole collection can appear to be quite a confusing jumble — until, and unless, you start surveying four-dimensional polytopes, known as polychora.

There are six regular polychora, and they are analogous to the five Platonic solids. Each three-dimensional cell is regular, and all are identical, within a single one of these six. When peering beyond these six, however, things can get very confusing, very quickly.

The software I used to generate this image, Stella 4d, has a built-in library of polyhedra and polychora. You can examine it as a free trial download at http://www.software3d.com/stella.php. Today, motivated by curiosity, I went surveying, using this program, into the more complex polychora — beyond the six regular ones — which have different polyhedra as cells, looking for one I could (try to) understand, and which appealed to me aesthetically.

The one I settled on for this post is known as 165-Srix, as well as the small rhombated 600-cell, a/k/a the cantellated 600-cell. It has 600 cells which are cuboctahedra, shown here in yellow, 120 more which are icosidodecahedra, shown here in blue, and 720 cells which are regular pentagonal prisms.

I must admit this: I’m more than a little jealous of those who seem to be able to easily understand these four-dimensional shapes. I am definitely not one of them.

The Hyperspace Analogue of the Stella Octangula

The simplest polyhedron is the tetrahedron, and it is self-dual. The compound of two tetrahedra puts these duals together, and is most often called the Stella Octangula, a name Johannes Kepler gave it in the early 17th Century.


In hyperspace, or 4-space, the simplest polychoron is the pentachoron, or 5-cell. Like the tetrahedron in 3-space, it is also self-dual. Here is the compound of two of them: hyperspace’s version of the Stella Octangula.

Compound of 1-Pen, 5-cell, Pentachoron and dual

Website to find the software used to make these images:  www.software3d.com/stella.php

Rotating Compound of the Tesseract and Its Dual


Rotating Compound of the Tesseract and Its Dual

Blue figure: a projection of the tesseract, or hypercube; also known as the 8-cell or octachoron — a four-dimensional figure composed of eight cubic cells in a regular arrangement.

Red figure: its dual, the 16-cell or hexadecachoron, which is composed of sixteen tetrahedral cells.

To buy (or just try) the software used to make this image, Stella 4d, please visit http://www.software3d.com/Stella.php.

The Two Simplest Polychora

The most familiar polychoron, to those who have heard of any of them, is the hypercube, or tesseract. It is analogous to the cube, but in four dimensions. All polychora are four-dimensional. With numbers of spatial dimensions above four, only the term “polytope” is used. Polyhedra are 3-polytopes, and polychora are 4-polytopes.

This is a three-dimensional projection of a tesseract, as it rotates in hyperspace, casting a “shadow” into our space:


In three dimensions, a cube is not the simplest polyhedron. A tetrahedron (a regular triangle-based pyramid) is simpler.

The simplest polychoron is composed of five tetrahedral cells, and is analogous to the tetrahedron, but in hyperspace. Here is a rotating “hypertetrahedron.”


There are even more names for these two polychora, based on the number of cells (cubes or tetrahedra). The tesseract/hypercube is composed of eight cubes, so it is called the 8-cell, as well as the octachoron. The preferred names for the hypertetrahedron are the 5-cell and the pentachoron, as it is composed of five (tetrahedral) cells.

Just as there are other Platonic solids not mentioned here, there are other regular polychora as well. The others will be subjects of upcoming posts, and one has already appeared here once (the 120-cell, or hyperdodecahedron), just three posts back.

Software note:  these .gifs were made using Stella 4d, which may be purchased, and/or tried for free (on a trial basis), at http://www.software3d.com/Stella.php.