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What is the Golden spiral?

Golden spiral is a logarithmic spiral whose growth factor is φ, the golden ratio. That is, a golden spiral gets wider (or further from its origin) by a factor of φ for every quarter turn it makes.

There are several comparable spirals that approximate, but do not exactly equal, a golden spiral.

For example, a golden spiral can be approximated by first starting with a rectangle for which the ratio between its length and width is the golden ratio.

This rectangle can then be partitioned into a square and a similar rectangle and this rectangle can then be split in the same way. After continuing this process for an arbitrary number of steps, the result will be an almost complete partitioning of the rectangle into squares.

The corners of these squares can be connected by quarter-circles. The result, though not a true logarithmic spiral, closely approximates a golden spiral.

Another approximation is a Fibonacci spiral, which is constructed slightly differently. A Fibonacci spiral starts with a rectangle partitioned into 2 squares. In each step, a square the length of the rectangle’s longest side is added to the rectangle.

Since the ratio between consecutive Fibonacci numbers approaches the golden ratio as the Fibonacci numbers approach infinity, so too does this spiral get more similar to the previous approximation the more squares are added, as illustrated by the image.

Approximate logarithmic spirals can occur in nature, for example the arms of spiral galaxies – golden spirals are one special case of these logarithmic spirals, although there is no evidence that there is any general tendency towards this case appearing.

Phyllotaxis is connected with the golden ratio because it involves successive leaves or petals being separated by the golden angle; it also results in the emergence of spirals, although again none of them are (necessarily) golden spirals.

It is sometimes stated that spiral galaxies and nautilus shells get wider in the pattern of a golden spiral, and hence are related to both φ and the Fibonacci series. In truth, spiral galaxies and nautilus shells (and many mollusk shells) exhibit logarithmic spiral growth, but at a variety of angles usually distinctly different from that of the golden spiral. This pattern allows the organism to grow without changing shape.
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