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Chaos and strange Attractors: Henon’s map

Henon’s map was created in the 1970s to explore chaotic systems.  The general form is created by the iterative formula:

The classic case is when a = 1.4 and b = 0.3 i.e:

To see how points are generated, let’s choose a point near the origin.  If we take (0,0) the next x coordinate is given by:

We would then continue this process over several thousands iterations.  If we do this then we get the very strange graph at the top of the page – the points are attracted to a flow like structure, which they then circulate round.  The graph above was generated when we took our starting coordinate as (0.1,0.1), let’s take a different starting point.  This time let’s have (1.1, 1.1):

We can see that exactly the same structure appears.  All coordinates close to the origin will get attracted to this strange attractor – except for a couple of fixed points near the origin which remain where they are.  Let’s see why.  First we can rewrite the iterative formula just in terms of x:

Next we use the fact that when we have a fixed point the x coordinate (and y coordinate) will not change.  Therefore we can define the following:

This allows us to then make the following equation:

Which we can then solve using the quadratic formula:

Which also gives y:

So therefore at these 2 fixed points the coordinates do not get drawn to the strange attractor.

Above we can see the not especially interesting graph of the repeated iterations when starting at this point!

But we can also see the chaotic behavior of this system by choosing a point very close to this fixed point.  Let’s choose (0.631354477, 0.631354477) which is correct to 9 decimal places as an approximation for the fixed point.

We can see our familiar graph is back.  This is an excellent example of chaotic  behavior – a very small change in the initial conditions has created a completely different system.

This idea was suggested by the excellent Doing Maths With Python – which is well worth a read if you are interested in computer programing to solve mathematical problems.

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All content on this site has been written by Andrew Chambers (MSc. Mathematics, IB Mathematics Examiner).

### New website for International teachers

I’ve just launched a brand new maths site for international schools – over 2000 pdf pages of resources to support IB teachers.  If you are an IB teacher this could save you 200+ hours of preparation time.

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