# Math 181 Handout 16. Rich Schwartz. March 9, 2010

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1 Math 8 Handout 6 Rich Schwartz March 9, 200 The purpose of this handout is to describe continued fractions and their connection to hyperbolic geometry. The Gauss Map Given any x (0, ) we define γ(x) = (/x) floor(/x). () Here, floor(y) is the greatest integer less or equal to y. The Gauss map has a nice geometric interpretation, as shown in Figure. We start with a x rectangle, and remove as many x x squares as we can. Then we take the left over (shaded) rectangle and turn it 90 degrees. The resulting rectangle is proportional to a γ(x) rectangle. x Figure Starting with x 0 = x, we can form the sequence x 0, x, x 2,... where x k+ = γ(x k ). This sequence is defined until we reach an index k for which x k = 0. Once x k = 0, the point x k+ is not defined.

2 Exercise : Prove that the sequence {x k } terminates at a finite index if and only if x 0 is rational. (Hint: Use the geometric interpretation.) Consider the rational case. We have a sequence x 0,..., x n, where x n = 0. We define a k+ = floor(/x k ); k = 0,..., n. (2) The numbers a k also have a geometric interpretation. Referring to Figure, where x = x k, the number a k+ tells us the number of squares we can remove before we are left with the shaded rectangle. In the picture shown, a k+ = 2. Figure 2 shows a more extended example. Starting with x 0 = 7/24, we have a = floor(24/7) = 3. x = 24/7 3 = 3/7. a 2 = floor(7/3) = 2. x 2 = (7/3) 2 = /3. a 3 = floor(3) = 3. x 3 = 0. In figure 2 we can read off the sequence (a, a 2, a 3 ) = (3, 2, 3) by looking at the number of squares of each size in the picture. The overall rectangle is x 0. Figure 2 2

3 2 Continued Fractions Again, sticking to the rational case, we can get an expression for x 0 in terms of a,..., a n. In general, we have which leads to But then we can say that x 0 = a + x = x k+ = x k a k+, x k = a k+ + x k+. (3) =... (4) a + a + a 2 + x 2 a 2 + a 3 + x 3 We introduce the notation α = a ; α 2 = a + a 2 ; α 3 = a + a 2 + a 3... (5) In making these definitions, we are chopping off the x k in each expression in Equation 4. The value of α k depends on k, but x 0 = α n because x n = 0. Cosidering the example from the previous section, we have α = 3 ; α 2 = = 2 7 ; α 3 = x 0 = We say that two rational numbers p /q and p 2 /q 2 are farey related if [ ] p p det 2 = p q q q 2 p 2 q = ±. (6) 2 In this case, we write p /q 2 p 2 /q 2. For instance /3 2/7 and 2/7 7/24. This is no accident. Exercise 2: Starting with any rational x 0 (0, ) we get a sequence {α k } 3

4 as above. Prove that α k α k+ for all k. Hint: induction. Exerxise 3: Consider the sequence of differences β k = α k+ α k. Prove that the signs of β k alternate. Thus, the sequence α, α 2, α 3,... alternately over-approximates and under-approximates x 0 = α n. Exercise 4: Prove that the denominator of α k+ is greater than the denominator of α k for all k. In particular, the α-sequence does not repeat. With a little bit of extra effort, you can show that the sequence of denominators grows at least exponentially. 3 The Farey Graph Now we will switch gears and discuss an object in hyperbolic geometry. Let H 2 denote theupper half-plane model of the hyperbolic plane. We form a geodesic graph G in H 2 as follows. The vertices of the graph are the rational points in R, the ideal boundary of H 2. The point counts as rational, and is considered to be the fraction /0. The edges of the graph are geodesics joining farey related rationals. For instance, the vertices 0 = 0 ; = ; = 0 are the vertices of an ideal triangle T 0 whose boundary lies in G. Let Γ = PSL 2 (Z) denote the group of integer 2 2 matrices acting on H 2 by linear fractional transformations. As usual, Γ also acts on R. Exercise 4: Let g Γ be some element. Suppose r r 2. Prove that g(r ) g(r 2 ). In particular, g is a symmetry of G. Now we know that Γ acts as a group of symmetries of G. We can say more. Suppose e is an edge of G, connecting p /q to p 2 /q 2. The matrix [ ] p p 2 q q 2 carries e to the edge connecting 0 = 0/ to = /0. We call this latter edge our favorite. In other words, we can find a symmetry of G that carries any edge we like to our favorite edge. Since Γ is a group, we can find an element 4

5 of Γ carrying any one edge e of G to any other edge e 2. We just compose the element that carries e to our favorite edge with the inverse of the element that carries e 2 to our favorite edge. In short Γ acts transitively on the edges of G. Exercise 5: Prove that no two edges of G cross each other. (Hint: By the symmetry we have just discussed, it suffices to prove that no edge crosses our favorite edge. We have exhibited an ideal triangle T 0 whose boundary lies in G. Our favorite edge is an edge of this triangle. It is also an edge of the ideal triangle T with vertices 0 ; 0 ;. The boundary of this triangle lies in G as well. Thus, our favorite edge is flanked by two ideal triangles whose boundaries lie in G. But then, by symmetry, this holds for every edge of G. Starting out from T 0 and moving outward in a tree-like manner, we recognize that G is the set of edges of a triangulation of H 2 by ideal triangles. Figure 2 shows a finite portion of G. The vertical line on the left is our favorite line. The vertical line on the right connects to. Figure 3 5

6 4 Continued Fractions and the Farey Graph Let s go back to continued fractions and see how they fit in with the Farey graph. Let x 0 (0, ) be a rational number. We have the sequence of approximations α,..., α n = x 0 as in Equation 5. It is convenient to also define α = ; α 0 = 0; (7) If we consider the larger sequence α,..., α n, the statements of Exercises 2 and 3 remain true. In particular, we have a path P(x 0 ) in the Farey graph that connects to x 0, obtained by connecting to 0 to α, etc. The example gave above doesn t produce such a nice picture, so we will give some other examples. Let x 0 = 5/8. This gives us and a =... = a 5 = α = ; α 2 = 2 ; α 3 = 2 3 ; α 4 = 3 5 ; α 5 = x 0 = 5 8. Figure 3 6

7 Taking x 0 = 5/7 gives a = ; a 2 = 2; a 3 = 2. and α = ; α 2 = 2 3 ; α 3 = 5 7. Figure 4 There are three things we would like to point out about these pictures. First, they make a zig-zag pattern. This always happens, thanks to Exercises 3 and 4 above. Exercise 4 says that the path cannot backtrack on itself, and then Exercise 4 forces the back-and-forth behavior. Second, we can read off the numbers a,..., a n by looking at the amount of turning the path makes at each vertex. In Figure 4, our path turns one click at α 0, then two clicks at α, then two clicks at α 2. This corresponds to the sequence (, 2, 2). Similarly, the path in Figure 3 turns one click at each vertex, and this correspons to the sequenc (,,,, ). Exercise 6: Prove that the observation about the turns holds for any rational x 0 (0, ). 7

8 Third, the diameter of the kth arc in our path is less than /k(k ). This is a terrible estimate, but it will serve our purposes below. To understand this estimate, note that the kth arc connects α k = p k /q k to α k = p k /q k, and α k α k. The diameter of the kth arc is p α k α k = k p k q = k q k q k q k k(k ). The starred equation comes from the fact that α k and α k are Farey-related. The last inequality comes from Exercise 4. As we mentioned in Exercise 4, the denominators of the α-sequence grow at least exponentially. So, actually, the arcs in our path shrink exponentially fast. 5 The Irrational Case So far, we have concentrated on the case when x 0 is rational. If x 0 is irrational, then we produce an infinite sequence {α k } of rational numbers that approximate x. From what we have said above, we have x [α k, α k+ ] or x [α k+, α k ] (8) for each index k, with the choice depending on the parity of k, and also lim α k α k+ = 0. (9) k Therefore x 0 = lim α k. (0) k The corresponding infinite path in the Farey graph starts at and zig-zags downward forever, limiting on x. The nicest possible example is probably 5 x 0 = = /φ, 2 where φ is the golden ratio. In this case, a k = for all k and α k is always ratio of two consecutive Fibonacci numbers. The path in this case starts out as in Figure 3 and continues the pattern forever. Taking some liberties with the notation, we can write φ =

9 Since φ = + (/φ) we can equally well write φ = () This is a truly famous equation! The {a k } sequence is known as the continued fraction expansion of x 0. In case x 0 >, we pad the sequence with floor(x 0 ). So, /φ has continued fraction expansion,,,... and φ has continued fraction expansion ;,,... The subject of continued fractions is a vast one. Here I ll mention a few facts. An irrational number x 0 (0, ) is the root of an integer quadratic equation ax 2 + bx + c = 0 if and only if it has a continued fraction expansion that is eventually periodic. The famous number e has continued fraction expansion 2;, 2,,, 4,,, 6,,, 8,,, 0... The continued fraction expansion of π is not known. In spite of having a huge literature, the subject of continued fractions abounds with unsolved problems. For instance, it is unknown of the {a k } sequence for the cube root of 2 is unbounded. In fact, this is unknown for any root of an integer polynomial equation that is neither quadratic irrational nor rational. We close this chapter with a sketch-proof of the statement about about quadratic irrationals. To simplify the proof, we will prove the somewhat different statement that x 0 (0, ) has periodic continued fraction expansion if and only if x 0 is the fixed point of an element of Γ = PSL 2 (R). Suppose that x 0 has an eventually-periodic continued fraction expansion. Let P(x 0 ) be the zig-zag path joining to x 0. Exercise 7: Prove that the path P(x 0 ) eventually is periodic, in the sense that there is a finite union P of edges of P(x 0 ) and an element g Γ such that the union g k (P ) is a partition of the tail end of P(x 0 ) Note that x 0 is a fixed point of the element g from Exercise 7. This proves one half of the claim. 9

10 Exercise 8: Let x and y be two distinct irrational points in R. Let β be the geodesic connecting x to y. Prove that there is a unique path in the Farey graph that connects x to y and only uses edges that cross β. Call this path P(x, y). Exercise 9: Prove that P(x 0, y) and P(x 0 ) agree in a neighborhood of x 0. Here P(x) is the zig-zag path connecting to x 0, constructed from the continued fraction expansion of x 0. The element g, being a loxodromic isometry, has a second fixed point y 0. The canonical path P(x 0, y 0 ) is invariant under g because it is canonical. Hence P(x 0, y 0 ) is periodic in a geometric sense. But P(x 0, y 0 ) agrees with P(x 0 ) in a neighborhood of x 0. But then the tail end of P(x 0 ) is periodic. But one can read off the continued fraction expansion from the geometry of P(x 0 ). Hence, the continued fraction expansion of x 0 is eventually periodic. 0

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