The 600-Cell (Spheres III)

Various arrangements of touching spheres, with a fair amount of color, reflections, and light, can lead to startling views, like this one:


So, what are we seeing here? In short, this is the stereographic image of the 600 cell, with its vertices being represented by spheres so large that they touch in the 3-dimensional sphere.

As usual, an analogy helps. Let’s start with the ordinary cube in space. This appears to be a 3-dimensional object. We can also think of it as a tiling of the 2-dimensional sphere by spherical squares, of which one fell off here:


Now, still working in the 2-sphere, place a spherical disk at each vertex of the cube with a radius so large that all the disks just touch:


To view this in the plane instead of in the 2-sphere, we can apply a stereographic projection, and get a rather boring looking collection of eight touching disks.


Now we repeat the same procedure in one dimension higher. The cube is one of the five platonic solids in 3-space. In 4-space, there are six regular polytopes, and one of them is the 600-cell. It consist of 600 tetrahedra that we can use to tile the 3-sphere. It also has 120 vertices. Placing a small 2-sphere at each vertex and connecting adjacent vertices by thin tori in the 3-sphere, results (after stereographic projection) in the following model.


Now make the 120 spheres so large that they just touch. The first image shows a partial view of these spheres. The spheres are all reflective, and we are standing inside the 600 cell, so we see mostly reflections of (reflections of) spheres.


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