This is a picture of the algebraic numbers in the complex plane.
What does that mean? Well, algebraic numbers are roots of polynomials with integer coefficients. In the picture, the integers 0 and 1 are the big dots near the bottom, while the imaginary number i (the square root of –1) is near the top.
The colour of a point indicates the degree of the polynomial of which it’s a root:
- red = roots of linear polynomials (i.e. rational numbers),
- green = roots of quadratic polynomials,
- blue = roots of cubic polynomials,
- yellow = roots of quartic polynomials, and so on.
The size of a point decreases exponentially with the ‘complexity’ of the simplest polynomial with integer coefficient of which it’s a root. Here the complexity is the sum of the absolute values of the coefficients of that polynomial.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.