Problem of Apollonius
From Math Images
Apollonius of Perga posed and solved this problem in his work called Tangencies. Sadly, Tangencies has been lost, and only a report of his work by Pappus of Alexandria is left. Since then, other mathematicians, such as Isaac Newton and Descartes, have been able to recreate his results and discover new ways of solving this interesting problem.
The problem usually has eight different solution circles that exist that are tangent to the given three circles in a plane. The given circles must not be tangent to each other, overlapping, or contained within one another for all eight solutions to exist.
Given three points, the problem only has one solution. In the cases of one line and two points; two lines and one point; and one circle and two points, the problem has two solutions. Four solutions exist for the cases of three lines; one circle, one line, and one point; and two circles and one point. There are eight solutions for the cases of two circles and one line; and one circle and two lines, in addition to the three circle problem.
A More Mathematical Explanation
There are many different ways of solving the problem of Apollonius. The few that are easiest to understand include using an algebraic method or an inverse geometry method.
Constructing the gasket begins with three mutually tangent circles. By solving this case of the problem of Apollonius we know that there are two other circles that are tangent to the three given circles. We now have five circles from which to start again.
Repeat the process with two of the original circles and one of the newly generated circles. Again, by solving Apollonius' problem we can find two circles that are tangent to this new set of three circles. Although, we already know one of the two solutions for this set of three circles; it is the other of the three circles that we started with.
Repeating this process over and over again with each set of three mutually tangent circles will create the Apollonian gasket.
Math Pages, Apollonius' Tangency Problem
MathWorld, Apollonius' Problem
Anna created several programs that solve the problem of Apollonius in the case of three non-tangent, non-intersecting circles that the user inputs. The programs were written in Mathematica 7, but are likely compatible with Mathematica 5 and/or 6.
The first program automatically plots all eight solutions. Click here to download this program
The second program allows the user to choose which solutions to plot in groups of two. Click here to download this program
Ideas for the future
AnnaP has a mathematica program that solves the problem for three non intersecting circles. Turning this code into an applet where people could input three circles would be really cool! Email Anna to get the mathematica script if you want to work on this.
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