A Euclidian Construction of the Regular Pentadecagon (from 2011)

pentadecagon construction 2011

Because I did not start this blog until mid-2012, I sometimes encounter things I made before then, but have not yet posted here. I made this image in 2011, after reading that the ancient Greeks discovered how to combine the Euclidean constructions of the regular pentagon and the equilateral triangle, in order to create a construction for the regular pentadecagon. Having read this, I felt compelled to try this for myself, without researching further how the Greeks did it — and, as evidenced by the image above, I successfully figured it out, using the Euclidean tools embedded in a computer program I often use, Geometer’s Sketchpad.

What I did not do at that time was show the pentagon’s sides (so it is rather hard to find in the image above, but its vertices are there), nor record step-by-step instructions for the construction. For those who wish to try this themselves, I do have some advice: construct the pentagon before you construct the triangle, and not the other way around, and you are likely to find this puzzle easier to solve than it would be, if this polygon-order I recommend were reversed.

I also have two more hints to offer: 108º – 60º = 48º, and half of 48º is 24º. Noticing this was, as I recall, the key to cracking the puzzle.

A Euclidean Construction of a Golden Rectangle in Which All Circles Used Have Radius One or Two

There is more than one way to construct a golden rectangle using the Euclidean rules, but all the ones I have seen before use circles with irrational radii. This construction, which I believe to be new, does not use that shortcut, which helps explain its length. The cost of avoiding circles of irrational radius is decreased efficiency, as measured by the number of steps required for the entire construction.

In the diagram below, the distance between points A and B is set at one. All of the green circles have this radius, while the magenta circles have a radius exactly twice as long.

UCGRC

To make following the construction from the diagram above easier, I named the points in alphabetical order, as they appear, as the construction proceeds. The yellow rectangle is the resulting golden rectangle. The blue right triangle is what I used to get a segment with a length equal to the square root of five, which is a necessary step, given that this irrational number is part of the numerical definition of the exact value of the golden ratio (one-half of the sum of one and the square root of five). In order to make the hypotenuse have a length equal to the square root of five, by the Pythagorean Theorem, the two legs of this triangle have lengths of one and two.

Constructing the Henkaipentacontagon: A Regular Polygon with 51 Sides

Constructing the Henkaipentacontagon:  A Regular Polygon with 51 Sides

After completing the heptadecagon construction shown in the last post on this blog, I wondered if I could pull off a similar trick to the one mentioned there of combining the pentagon and triangle constructions to construct a regular pentadecagon — but using the heptadecagon and triangle, instead, to construct a regular polygon with (17)(3) = 51 sides, known as the henkaipentacontagon.

The answer: yes, I was able to, but certainly not in the simplest way possible, for I ended up having to go to 204, first, to get to 51. First, I extended two adjacent radii of the heptadecagon in the upper left as rays, just to give me room to work. Next, I placed point Bon the lower of those two rays, to be used as the center of the large circle in which to construct my 51-sided regular polygon. I then constructed a line through B1 which was parallel to the upper of these two rays, thus duplicating the ~21.17647º central angle of the heptadecagon, but in the center of my new, larger circle. Next, I constructed the yellow equilateral triangle with this heptadecagon-central-angle inside it, in such a way that the lower half of the yellow triangle would be a 30-60-90 triangle,  ΔA1B1C1, with the ~21.17647° angle inside, and sharing a ray with, this triangle’s 30° angle. By subtraction, that made a ~8.8235° angle, with its vertex at the center of the largest circle shown.

Next, I divided ~8.8235 into 360 . . . and, to my dismay, didn’t get a whole number as an answer, but 40.8, instead. I then noticed that one can multiple 40.8 by five, and obtain 204 as the product. Armed with this knowledge, I used my ~8.8235° angle, and 204 circles of equal radius, to locate 204 points, evenly-spaced, around the large circle.

51 is one-fourth of 204, so I connected every fourth point around the large circle with heavy blue segments, and made those 51 points (one fourth of the total) blue, as well. These blue points and segments are the sides and vertices of the regular henkaipentacontagon, shown inscribed, above, inside the largest circle in the diagram.

Since this polygon looks a lot like a circle, I then rendered a lot of things from the diagram above invisible, in order to produce this second image:  the henkaipentacontagon alone, with different colors for its vertices and sides, all radii added, and three alternating colors for the 51 triangles each formed by two adjacent radii and a side.

51gon

A Proposed New Unit for Angle Measure: The Euclid

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A Proposed New Unit for Angle Measure:  the Euclid

Some angles are constructible, in the Euclidean sense that they may be constructed with the traditional geometricians’ construction-tools: a compass, and an unmarked straightedge. Examples include every angle shown above, such as the 108° interior angles of the purple regular pentagon, or the 60° angles of the yellow triangle. Angle LEN is constructible as well, and measures 48° — but to construct it, one must use compass-and-straightedge subtraction (the 108° pentagon angle HEK, minus the 60° triangle angle KEL). After constructing this 48° angle, I bisected it repeatedly, to show that angles measuring 24, 12, 6, and 3, and 1.5 degrees may be constructed as well. The 1.5° angle NET is shown with a blue interior.

Many other angles are non-constructible. For example, the angle between two adjacent radii of a regular enneagon (also called a nonagon) measures 40°, and so, because it has been proven that the regular enneagon cannot be constructed with the traditional Euclidean tools, it follows that 40° angles are non-constructible. If they were constructible, however, the subtraction-trick I used earlier to construct a 48° angle could be used, again, to construct an 8° angle (48° – 40°) — so 8° angles, therefore, are also non-constructible. Since repeatedly bisecting an 8° angle would yield angles measuring 4, 2, 1, 0.5, o.25, etc. degrees, all of these angle-measures are for non-constructible angles.

With the one degree angle on the non-constructible list, that throws into question the practice of using degrees to measure angles. As for other established units of angle measure, they have the same problem. It is not possible to construct an angle measuring one radian — nor one gradian, either. (Gradians are little-known angle-measuring units; a right angle measures 100 gradians.)

If an angle-measurement system is to be based on units which correspond to the measure of constructible angles, the blue angle above, measuring 1.5°, is ideal . . . and I am, therefore, using this angle as the definition for a new unit of angle measure:  the euclid. If an angle measures a whole number of euclids, it is constructible, and this cannot be said for the degree, radian, nor gradian. (By the way, leaving “euclid” uncapitalized, in this context, is deliberate, for I am using it as a unit. This follows the convention set by other units named after people. For example, “Newton” refers to Sir Isaac Newton, but “newton” refers to a unit of force.)

One full rotation would be a rotation of 240 euclids. A right angle is one-fourth of that, or sixty euclids. The interior angles of equilateral triangles measure forty euclids, and the interior regular-pentagon-angle of 108° becomes 72 euclids, in this new, proposed system.

360 has been used as the basis of the degree for reasons both historical and mathematical. Sixty, and its multiple 360, appear as important numbers in several ancient cultures, and 360 also has many whole-number divisors, having a prime-number factorization of (2)(2)(2)(3)(3)(5).

However, 240 has similar properties. As I have shown, it is based on the Euclidean construction-rules from ancient Greece. The number 240 also has many whole-number divisors, since its prime-number factorization is (2)(2)(2)(2)(3)(5).

Just in case this catches on, I have created a symbol for the euclid, to be used in superscript form, as the degree symbol is used:

euclid symbol

A simple “e,” by itself, would not do, for that would cause confusion with the important number e — the base of natural logarithms, among other things. That is why I included a circle, surrounding the letter “e,” for this symbol. In superscript form, this symbol for the euclid would resemble the well-known copyright symbol — but, fortunately, the copyright symbol is not, itself, copyrighted.

On the Constructible Angles

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The Constructible Angles

The Ancient Greeks figured out how to combine the Euclidean constructions of the regular pentagon and triangle to obtain constructions for the regular pentadecagon, which has central angles (between adjacent radii) of 360/15 = 24 degrees. Here’s an example, showing how this can be performed:

15

Also, it’s easy to construct an equilateral triangle, and then bisect an angle of it, to obtain a 30 degree angle.

The existence of angle difference identities in trigonometry is tied to the fact that you can subtract angles, on paper, with Euclidean constructions. Therefore, an angle of 24 degrees may be subtracted from a 30 degree angle to obtain a 6 degree angle. This can be bisected to get a 3 degree angle, and then bisected again to obtain a 1.5 degree angle, then a 0.75 degree angle, and so on.

However, a one degree angle is impossible to construct. Were this not the case, a 24 degree angle’s constructibility would imply that of the 23 degree angle, by subtraction of a one degree angle. After that, subtract three degrees more, and you have a 20 degree angle . . . and with that, you can construct a regular enneagon, also known an a nonagon. But we know — it has been proven — that regular enneagons have no valid Euclidean constructions. Therefore, one degree angles are also non-constructible, by reductio ad absurdam.

Carl Friedrich Gauss’s much more recent proof (1796; he was 19 years old) that a regular polygon of 17 sides can also be constructed — the first significant advance in this field since the time of the ancient Greeks — adds more constructible angles. Building on his work, other mathematicians have also shown that regular polygons with 257 and 65,537 sides can also be constructed, adding yet more constructible angles, but they are all for angles measuring fractional numbers of degrees, since none of these numbers are factors of 360, which equals (2³)(3²)(5). It’s also possible to combine these possible constructions to construct more regular polygons, as was shown above for the pentadecagon. For example, one can construct a regular pentagon with 51 sides, since 51 = (17)(3) — but, again, combinations of this type only lead to possible constructions of angles with measures which are fractional numbers of degrees. For angles with degree measures which are integers, it’s multiples of three — and that’s it.

[Note regarding images: the photograph of a compass at the top of this page was not taken by me, but simply found with a Google image-search. The pentadecagon-construction image, though, I did make, using both Geometer’s Sketchpad and MS-Paint.]