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Steiner’s Porism

D̄ORÐE BARALIĆ, DUŠAN JOKANOVIĆ, AND MARINA MILIĆEVIĆ

S

having the same size and ‘‘sliding’’ along the annulus

geometry from the 19th century. Poristic properties between the circles like ball bearings.

are geometrical results about the existence of geo- A Steiner configuration has amazing properties. For

metrical configurations of figures that cannot exist unless a example, the centers of circles forming a Steiner chain lie

condition is met, but otherwise may exist in infinite on the same conic C whose foci are the centers of the two

number. Another classical example of a poristic property given circles m and l.

is the famous Poncelet’s porism; see [4] and [5]. Apart from Following the classical proof based on inversion that

their profound beauty and elegance, poristic types of transforms two given circles into concentric circles, and

results attract mathematicians because of their deep con- guided by empirical evidence made by experiments in the

nections to other leading research topics in mechanics, software Cinderella, we prove an analogue of the Full

theory of billiards, analysis, etc. A nice treatment of other Poncelet Theorem (see [3]) for the Steiner porism. Before

closure theorems is presented in reference [6, Lecture 29]. we state the theorem, we will briefly remind the reader of

Steiner’s porism is named for the great geometer Jacob some basic definitions and facts from elementary geometry.

Steiner who discovered it in the 19th century, [9]. He studied Let k be a circle with center O and radius R, and let a

a set of a finite number of circles, all of which were tangent point A in the plane be given. Let us consider an arbitrary

to two given nonintersecting circles (see Figure 1), each line p through A intersecting k in two points M and N and

circle in the chain being tangent to the previous and the next let B be the orthogonal projection of O to p (see Figure 2).

circle in the chain, today widely known as a Steiner chain. In Two applications of Pythagoras’s theorem yield

the usual closed Steiner chains, the first and last circles are ! ! ! ! ! !

also tangent to each other; by contrast, in open Steiner AM AN ¼ ð AB þ BM Þ ð AB þ BN Þ

chains they need not be. Several generalizations of Steiner ! !

¼ ð AB þ BM Þ

chains exist, most notably Soddy’s hexlet and Pappus ! !

chains, and many of their properties have been discovered. ð AB BM Þ ¼ AB2 BM 2

A fundamental result is Steiner’s porism, which states that: ¼ ðAO2 OB2 Þ

ðR2 OBÞ2 ¼ AO2 R2 ;

THEOREM 1 (Classical Steiner porism). If at least one

! !

closed Steiner chain of n circles exists for two given circles so the quantity AM AN is independent of the choice of

m and l, then there is an infinite number of closed Steiner the secant line p and it is called the power of A with

chains of n circles. Moreover, any circle tangent to m and l respect to k.

in the same way is a member of such a chain. The radical line, also called the radical axis, is the locus

of points of equal power with respect to two nonconcentric

Steiner proved his theorem using the method of circle circles. By the chordal theorem, it is perpendicular to the

inversion. Since it preserves tangencies, angles, and circles, line of centers. Coaxal circles are circles whose centers are

inversion transforms one Steiner chain into another of the collinear and that share a common radical line. The col-

same number of circles. One particular choice of inversion lection of all coaxal circles with respect to a fixed radical

transforms the two given circles into concentric circles so axis is called the pencil of coaxal circles. For further reading

all the circles of the Steiner chain are mapped by it to circles we refer reader to [2].

Figure 1. Theorem 1.

Figure 3. Theorem 2 (red circles are coaxal).

Let k , k , . . ., k be a finite set of coaxal circles. Steiner Chains section, we provide elementary proofs of

Figure 02. The

1 n

power of a point with respect to a circle.

other interesting results related to generalized Steiner

DEFINITION 1. A sequence of circles cfi0 0 ; j0 g , cfi1 1 ;j1 g , cfi2 2 ;j2 g , chains, which further extend the results from [7]. Finally, in

. . . satisfying the following conditions: the Some Open Questions section, we discuss the question

of criteria on a set of given coaxal circles that guarantee the

fi ;j g

• each circle cp p p is tangent to the circles kip and kjp existence of a generalized Steiner chain of a given pre-

fip1 ;jp1 g fi ;j g scribed type of tangencies.

• neighboring circles cp1 and cp p p are tangent for

every p 2 N

is called a generalized Steiner chain. Proof of Theorem 2

For our generalization of Steiner porism it is of crucial

A finite Steiner chain is said to be closed if the first and importance to understand elementary properties of pencils

the last circle in the chain are tangent to each other. The of coaxial circles. Before we proceed to the proof, we

main theorem of the paper observes the poristic property briefly review some basic facts about the geometry of cir-

of this generalized Steiner chain (see Figure 3). cles and inversion.

The radical line of two given circles is, by the chordal

THEOREM 2 (Generalized Steiner porism). If at least one theorem, a line perpendicular to the line of centers. In the

fi ; j g fi ;j g

closed Steiner chain of m þ 1 circles c0 0 0 , c1 1 1 , . . ., case of intersecting circles it is the line passing through the

fi ;j g

cmm m exists for a given finite set k1 , k2 , . . ., kn of coaxal common points of two circles whereas in the case of tan-

circles, then there is an infinite number of closed Steiner gent circles the radical line is just the common tangent in

chains of m þ 1 circles such that the ordering of tangencies the point of tangency (see Figure 4).

with the given n coaxal circles is preserved. Moreover, any Let k and l be two given nonintersecting circles in the

circle tangent to ki0 and kj0 is the first member of such a plane and p be their radical line. Let O and S be the centers

Steiner chain. of k and l, respectively, and X the intersection point of p

and the line of centers. Let U 2 k and V 2 l be points such

In the Proof of Theorem 2 section, we prove Theorem 2 that the lines UX and UV are tangent to k and l, respectively.

using the same argument as in the standard proof of the By the properties of the radical line it follows that UX ¼ VX

classical Steiner porism. After that, in the Theorems on so the circle x with center in X and radius UX is orthogonal

2017 Springer Science+Business Media New York, Volume 39, Number 1, 2017 7

Figure 7. An intersecting, a tangent, and nonintersecting

pencils.

into concentric circles.

to both k and l (see Figure 5). Recall that two circles are

orthogonal if the tangent to one circle in a common point

passes through the center of the second circle.

Now let A and B be the intersection points of x with the Figure 8. The picture after inversion.

line of centers of k and l, and C be a circle with center in A.

Let us consider an inversion with respect to C. Then the line

of centers is mapped onto itself, and x is mapped to a line defined by the two point-circles. The two point-circles it

x0 perpendicular to the line of centers. Because k and l are contains are its limiting points and can be used to span the

orthogonal to both the line of centers and x, it follows that pencil. In the case of an intersecting pencil, any two circles

k and l are transformed into the circles orthogonal to the k and l intersect in two fixed but distinct points on the

lines OS and x0 . Thus, their images are k 0 and l 0 —two common radical line and these points are called the base

concentric circles with the center at the intersection point points of the pencil. The pencil is the intersecting pencil of

B0 of the line of centers and x0 (see Figure 6). circles consisting of all the circles through its base points.

Let two nonconcentric circles k and l and their radical The case of a tangent pencil is a limiting case of the two

line p be given. One can consider the set of all the circles c previous ones. All the circles of the pencil are tangent to

such that p is the radical axis of k and c. This is equivalent each other, with a common tangent that is the radical line.

to p being a radical line of l and c. Such a family of circles is

a pencil of coaxal circles, more precisely the pencil of cir- PROOF OF THEOREM 2: We will start the proof of Theo-

cles generated by k and l. The pencil contains two circles k rem 2 by observing that there exists an inversion

and l that span it, but it is also spanned by any pair of transforming coaxal circles into concentric circles. More-

circles it contains (in the same way as a line is spanned by over, this is the same inversion that maps any two circles

any pair of points). With respect to the relative positions of from the set into concentric ones (see Figure 8).

k and l we distinguish three type of pencils: a noninter- It turns out that the circles from the Steiner chain

secting, an intersecting, and a tangent (see Figure 7). touching the same concentric circles are congruent and,

In the case of nonintersecting pencils, any two circles k therefore, the whole figure can be rotated about the com-

and l in the pencil do not intersect and all the points of the mon center of these concentric circles. It is clear that, if

fi ; j g

radical line are outside the circles of the pencil. In this case, starting with c0 0 0 , we get a Steiner Chain; then, starting

fi0 ; j0 g

there are two circles of zero radius (point-circles) and the with d0 we will get the Steiner Chain obtained by

radical axis is the perpendicular bisector of the segment rotation. Clearly, it will contain the same number of circles

Figure 11. Proposition 1.

Let Yi be the second intersection point of the line UI

and the circumcircle of MA0 i B0 i I . The power of the point U

Figure 9. Lemma 1. with respect to the circumcircle of MA0 i B0 i I yields

UA0 i UB0 i ¼ UYi UI for all i:

UA0 i UB0 i ¼ UA0 iþ1 UB0 iþ1 for all i:

Thus, the last two equalities imply that Yi Yiþ1 for every Y

so the lines Ai Bi are concurrent in the point X ¼ wðY Þ:

Similarly, the line Pi Qi is mapped onto the circumcircle

of MP 0 i Q0 i I under w for all i. Let Zi be the second inter-

section point of the line UI and the circumcircle of MP 0 i Q0 i I .

The power of the point U with respect to the circumcircle of

MP 0 i Q0 i I yields

UP 0 i UQ0 i ¼ UZi UI for all i:

Figure 10. Proof of Lemma 1.

Also, the power of the point U with respect to c0i gives

and the ordering of tangencies with the given n coaxal UA0 i UB0 i ¼ UP 0 i UQ0 i for all i:

circles will be the same. (

Now it easily follows that Zi Yi for all i and therefore the

lines Pi Qi pass through the point X.

Theorems on Steiner Chains The points I, O, S, and U are collinear by standard

In this section we study various types of collinearities

properties of inversion maps, so the point X clearly lies on

among points in the configuration of Steiner chains.

this line. (

We will start with the following lemma:

From the proof of Lemma 1 we can easily deduce that

UI UY ¼ UA0 i UB0 i ¼ UP 0 i UQ0 i for all i, which clearly

LEMMA 1. Let k and l be two nonintersecting circles and

implies the following results.

O and S their centers, respectively. Let c0 , c1 , c2 , . . . be

circles touching both circles k and l. Suppose that Ai and Bi

PROPOSITION 1.

are the intersection points of circles ci1 and ci , and Pi and

Qi the points of tangencies of ci with k and l, respectively, • For every i and j, the points Ai , Bi , Aj , and Bj lie on the

for every i 2 N: Then all of the lines Ai Bi and Pi Qi are same circle.

concurrent in the same point X, and the points O, S, and X • For every i and j, the points Pi , Qi , Pj , and Qj lie on the

are collinear (see Figure 11). same circle.

• For every i and j, the points Pi , Qi , Aj , and Bj lie on the

PROOF: Let us consider an inversion w, which transforms same circle.

circles k and l into two concentric circles k 0 and l 0 whose

common center is the point U, and let I be the center of As an immediate consequence of Lemma 1 we have:

w. Let c0 i be the image of ci under w for every i. The line

Ai Bi is mapped to the circumcircle of MA0 i B0 i I (see Fig- COROLLARY 1. Common tangents of neighboring circles

ure 10). in a classical Steiner chain are concurrent.

2017 Springer Science+Business Media New York, Volume 39, Number 1, 2017 9

Figure 13. Money-Coutts theorem.

an n-cycle can be constructed starting with any circle tan-

Figure 12. Theorem 3 (the lines in shades of green color are gent to both k and l [8, pp.98–100].

of type Pj

fp;qg fp;qg

Qj , the lines in shades of red color are of Experimenting with Cinderella, we constructed various

j

type tfe;f ;g;hg whereas the black line is the line of centers of examples of generalized Steiner chains. The easiest way to

coaxial circles.

obtain such configurations is to start with a set of concentric

circles and to construct a chain of circles inscribed in some

of the rings formed by those circles and then apply an

inversion to it. However, this method does not provide any

Now we turn our attention to the generalized Steiner reasonable conjecture for a starting condition guaranteeing

chains in the light of Lemma 1 and Corollary 1. Suppose the closure of the whole configuration.

fp ;q g

that a circle ci i i from the generalized Steiner chain is

fp ;q g

tangent to the circles kpi and kqi in the points Pi i i and PROBLEM 1. Establish a condition on m given coaxial

fpi ;qi g i

Qi . Let tfpi ;piþ1 ;qi ;qiþ1 g be the common internal tangent of circles that implies the existence of a generalized Steiner

fp ;q g fp ;q g

two neighboring circles ci i i and ciþ1iþ1 iþ1 . By similar chain of prescribed order of tangencies as in Definition 1.

reasoning, as in the proof of Lemma 1, we obtain the fol-

lowing theorem. Our Theorem 2 is a Steiner analogue of the Great Pon-

celet theorem. There are a number of other closure

THEOREM 3. theorems resembling Poncelet’s and Steiner’s porisms. One

fp;qg fp;qg

interesting theorem concerns mutually tangent circles

• All of the lines Pj Qj (through the points of inscribed in polygons and its variations, the Money-Coutts

tangencies of all circles touching kp and kq ) are Theorem (see [10] and [11]).

concurrent in the point Xfp;qg

j

• All of the tangents tfe;f ;g;hg between neighboring circles THEOREM 4 (Money-Coutts theorem). Let ABC be a tri-

such that the first touches ke and kg , and the second angle. Let k1 be a circle inscribed in the angle ABC, k2 the

touches kf and kh intersect in the common points

circle tangent to k1 and inscribed in the angle BCA, k3 the

Yfe;f ;g;hg .

circle tangent to k2 and inscribed in the angle CAB and so

• All of the points Xfp;qg and Yfe;f ;g;hg lie on the line through

on cyclically. Then the sequence of circles is 6-periodic:

the centers of coaxial circles k1 , k2 , . . ., kn (see Figure 12).

k1 ¼ k7 (see Figure 13).

Some Open Questions

this theorem with several polygons included in the

A natural question related to porisms is what is a necessary

configuration.

and sufficient condition for the existence of a poristic

property. For the Poncelet porism it is the remarkable

Cayley condition; see [4] and [3]. Such a condition is also

PROBLEM 2. Define and find a nested set of polygons

known for the case of the classical Steiner porism. For two having a poristic property that in some sense generalizes the

given nonintersecting circles k (O, R) and l (S, r) such that l Money-Coutts theorem.

lies in the interior of k, let d be the distance between their

centers. Let

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ðR rÞ2 d 2 The authors were supported by Grant 174020 of the Min-

q :¼ :

4Rr istry for Educationand Science of the Republic of Serbia

Then there is a closed chain of n mutually tangent circles and Grant 19/6-020/961-120/14 of the Ministry of Science

each tangent internally to k and externally to l if and only if and Technology of the Republic of Srpska.

The authors are greatly indebted to the anonymous REFERENCES

reviewers for their valuable comments and remarks. The [1] Marcel Berger, Geometry Revealed—A Jacob’s Ladder to

authors are grateful to Sergei Tabachnikov and Djordje Modern Higher Geometry, Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg (2010).

Žikelić for their interest, useful suggestions, and fruitful [2] H. S. M. Coxeter, Introduction to Geometry, John Wiley & Sons

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Republic of Srpska Math. (Crelle) 1 (1826) 161–184.

e-mail: dusanjok@yahoo.com [10] S. Tabachnikov, Going in Circles: Variations on the Money-

Coutts Theorem, Geometriae Dedicata 80 (2000), 289-296.

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University of East Sarajevo

Stepe Stepanovića b.b.

89101 Trebinje

Republic of Srpska

e-mail: marina.zirojevic@live.com

2017 Springer Science+Business Media New York, Volume 39, Number 1, 2017 11

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