On the Shape of Curves that are Rational in Polar Coordinates

J. G. Alcázar, G. M. Díaz-Toca

In this paper we provide a computational approach to the shape of curves which are rational in polar coordinates, i.e. which are defined by means of a parametrization (r(t),\theta(t)) where both r(t),\theta(t) are rational functions. Our study includes theoretical aspects on the shape of these curves, and algorithmic results which eventually lead to an algorithm for plotting the "interesting parts" of the curve, i.e. the parts showing the main geometrical features of it. On the theoretical side, we prove that these curves, with the exceptions of lines and circles, cannot be algebraic (in cartesian coordinates), we characterize the existence of infinitely many self-intersections, and we connect this with certain phenomena which are not possible in the algebraic world, namely the existence of limit circles, limit points, or spiral branches. On the practical side, we provide an algorithm which has been implemented in the computer algebra system Maple to visualize this kind of curves. Our implementation makes use (and improves some aspects of) the command polarplot currently available in Maple for plotting curves in polar form.

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