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* ! *
* ! *
* ! *
* ! *
C ! A
This is a view of part of one turn of the spiral. If you were to
construct a line segment from A to B, the triangle OAB would form
half a golden rectangle. The same thing would be true if you connected
B and C for triangle OBC.
The Golden Spiral is a logarithmic spiral; that is, its radius grows
exponentially. Because of this, it's easiest to put it in polar
coordinates. (If you haven't learned about polar coordinates yet,
don't worry - they're pretty simple to learn. You might want to talk
to your teacher, though, because this explanation is going to rely
heavily on them.)
As with every logarithmic spiral, the Golden Spiral's equation can be
written in the form of the polar equation
r = a*e^(k*@)
where r is the distance from the origin (the radius), @ represents
the Greek symbol theta, which is the angle the graph is open up to,
and a and k are constants. To get the equation for the Golden Spiral
(and not just any logarithmic spiral), we'll need to find out what
a and k are.
To derive the spiral formula, we also need to remember that the ratio
of the sides of a golden rectangle is equal to (1 + sqrt(5))/2, often
represented by the Greek symbol phi.
If the spiral above is a Golden spiral, then we know the following:
The lengths of the parts of the axes cut off by the spiral fit the
Golden ratio. That is,
(length of OB)/(length of OA) = phi = (1 + sqrt(5))/2

Also, since we're dealing with polar coordinates, we'll use our
equation r = a*e^(k*@) and call r the length of OA to get the
length of OA = a*e^(k*n*2*pi), where n is an integer.
(We put n*2*pi in for @/theta,
= a*e^(k*2n*pi) because we want to start on
the positive x-axis.)
Now call r the length of OB:
length of OB = a*e^[k*(n*2*pi + pi/2)] Here we add pi/2 to the
angle we used for point A
= a*e^[k*(2n+1/2)*pi] to indicate that B is on the
positive y-axis.
k * (2n+1/2] * pi
a * e
(length of OB)/(length of OA) = ---------------------------
k * 2n * pi
a * e
The a's will divide out, and to divide the e-terms we subtract the
exponents to get
[k * (2n+1/2) * pi] - (k * 2n * pi)
(length of OB)/(length of OA) = e
[k * (1/2) * pi]
= e
So now we have two expressions for the ratio of OB to OA - the one
from the definition of a Golden Spiral (that the axes' lengths cut off
by the spiral fit the Golden Ratio), and the one we've just derived
using the polar equation. Since these are both equal to the ratio of
OB to OA, we can set them equal to each other to get:
phi = (1 + sqrt(5))/2 = e^[k * (1/2) * pi]
\________ _________/ \_______ _______/
\/ \/
from Golden Ratio from polar equation

Now, remember that in order to get the equation for the spiral,
we need to know a and k, the constants in the polar equation
r = a*e^(k*@). We'll solve for k now by taking the natural
logarithm of both sides:
ln(phi) = ln(e^[k * (1/2) * pi])
= k * (1/2) * pi
Now multiply both sides by (2/pi):
(2/pi) * ln(phi) = (2/pi) * k * (1/2) * pi
= k
Now, remember way back at the beginning when we said that the Golden
Spiral had an equation of the form r = a * e^(k * @)? We now know what
k is. So we can now say that the equation for the Golden Spiral is
(2/pi) * ln(phi) * @
r = a * e
where r is the radius of the spiral, a is another constant we haven't
determined yet, phi is the golden ratio = 1+sqrt(5))/2, and @/theta
is the angle that the radius has opened up to, measured from the
positive x-axis.
We can write this another way. Using the rules of exponents, the
exponential function, and natural logs, we can say that
k = (2/pi) * ln(phi) moving the coefficent of the
natural log to the exponent of
= ln[phi^(2/pi)] its argument - a natural log rule

ln[phi^(2/pi)] * @
r = a * e substituting k back into
r = a*e^(k*@)

/ ln[phi^(2/pi)] \ @
= a * (e ) ) a rule of exponents
\ /
/ (2/pi) \ @
= a * (phi ) simplifying the inside using a
\ / natural log rule
[(2/pi) * @]
r = a * phi a rule of exponents
Here, finally, is our equation, given in polar coordinates. But what
about a? Well, this equation will always produce a golden spiral, no
matter what a is. (Can you see why? Look back at how a golden spiral
is defined. How do different values of a affect the graph?)