- Rotational symmetry
Generally speaking, an object with rotational symmetry is an object that looks the same after a certain amount of
rotation. An object may have more than one rotational symmetry; for instance, if reflections or turning it over are not counted, the triskelionappearing on the Isle of Man's flag (see opposite) has three rotational symmetries (or "a threefold rotational symmetry"). More examples may be seen below.
Formally, rotational symmetry is
symmetrywith respect to some or all rotations in "m"-dimensional Euclidean space. Rotations are direct isometries, i.e., isometries preserving orientation. Therefore a symmetry groupof rotational symmetry is a subgroup of "E"+("m") (see Euclidean group).
Symmetry with respect to all rotations about all vertices implies
translational symmetrywith respect to all translations, and the symmetry group is the whole "E"+("m"). This does not apply for objects because it makes space homogeneous, but it may apply for physical laws.
For symmetry with respect to rotations about a point we can take that point as origin. These rotations form the special
orthogonal groupSO("m"), the group of "m"×"m" orthogonal matriceswith determinant 1. For "m"=3 this is the rotation group.
In another meaning of the word, the rotation group "of an object" is the symmetry group within "E"+("n"), the group of direct isometries; in other words, the intersection of the full symmetry group and the group of direct isometries. For chiral objects it is the same as the full symmetry group.
Laws of physics are
SO(3)-invariantif they do not distinguish different directions in space. Because of Noether's theorem, rotational symmetry of a physical system is equivalent to the angular momentumconservation law. See also Rotational invariance.
n-fold rotational symmetry
Rotational symmetry of order "n", also called "n"-fold rotational symmetry, or discrete rotational symmetry of the nth order, with respect to a particular point (in 2D) or axis (in 3D) means that rotation by an angle of 360°/n (180°, 120°, 90°, 72°, 60°, 51 3/7 °, etc.) does not change the object. Note that "1-fold" symmetry is no symmetry, and "2-fold" is the simplest symmetry, so it does mean "more than basic".
The notation for "n"-fold symmetry is "Cn" or simply "n". The actual
symmetry groupis specified by the point or axis of symmetry, together with the "n". For each point or axis of symmetry the abstract group type is cyclic groupZ"n" of order "n". Although for the latter also the notation "C""n" is used, the geometric and abstract "C""n" should be distinguished: there are other symmetry groups of the same abstract group type which are geometrically different, see cyclic symmetry groups in 3D.
fundamental domainis a sector of 360°/n.
Examples without additional
*"n" = 2, 180°: the
dyad, quadrilaterals with this symmetry are the parallelograms; other examples: letters Z, N, S; apart from the colors: yin and yang
*"n" = 3, 120°:
triad, triskelion, Borromean rings; sometimes the term "trilateral symmetry" is used;
*"n" = 4, 90°:
*"n" = 6, 60°:
hexad, raelian symbol, new version
"C""n" is the rotation group of a regular "n"-sided
polygonin 2D and of a regular "n"-sided pyramidin 3D.
If there is e.g. rotational symmetry with respect to an angle of 100°, then also with respect to one of 20°, the
greatest common divisorof 100° and 360°.
A typical 3D object with rotational symmetry (possibly also with perpendicular axes) but no mirror symmetry is a
Multiple symmetry axes through the same point
For discrete symmetry with multiple symmetry axes through the same point, there are the following possibilities:
*In addition to an "n"-fold axis, "n" perpendicular 2-fold axes: the
dihedral groups "D"n of order 2"n" ("n"≥2). This is the rotation group of a regular prism, or regular bipyramid. Although the same notation is used, the geometric and abstract "D"n should be distinguished: there are other symmetry groups of the same abstract group type which are geometrically different, see dihedral symmetry groups in 3D.
*4×3-fold and 3×2-fold axes: the rotation group "T" of order 12 of a regular
tetrahedron. The group is isomorphicto alternating group"A"4.
*3×4-fold, 4×3-fold, and 6×2-fold axes: the rotation group "O" of order 24 of a
cubeand a regular octahedron. The group is isomorphic to symmetric group"S"4.
*6×5-fold, 10×3-fold, and 15×2-fold axes: the rotation group "I" of order 60 of a
dodecahedronand an icosahedron. The group is isomorphic to alternating group "A"5. The group contains 10 versions of "D3" and 6 versions of "D5" (rotational symmetries like prisms and antiprisms).
In the case of the
Platonic solids, the 2-fold axes are through the midpoints of opposite edges, the number of them is half the number of edges. The other axes are through opposite vertices and through centers of opposite faces, except in the case of the tetrahedron, where the 3-fold axes are each through one vertex and the center of one face.
Rotational symmetry with respect to any angle
Rotational symmetry with respect to any angle is, in two dimensions,
circular symmetry. The fundamental domain is a half-line.
In three dimensions we can distinguish cylindrical symmetry and spherical symmetry (no change when rotating about one axis, or for any rotation). That is, no dependence on the angle using cylindrical coordinates and no dependence on either angle using spherical coordinates. The fundamental domain is a
half-planethrough the axis, and a radial half-line, respectively. Axisymmetric or axisymmetrical are adjectives which refer to an object having cylindrical symmetry, or axisymmetry. An example of approximate spherical symmetry is the Earth (with respect to density and other physical and chemical properties).
In 4D, continuous or discrete rotational symmetry about a plane corresponds to corresponding 2D rotational symmetry in every perpendicular plane, about the point of intersection. An object can also have rotational symmetry about two perpendicular planes, e.g. if it is the
Cartesian productof two rotationally symmetry 2D figures, as in the case of e.g. the duocylinderand various regular duoprisms.
Geometry, architecture and furniture
Rotational symmetry is a perfectly symmetrical shape wherein a two dimensional object is necessarily circular, and a three dimensional object may be considered as a stack of discs of differing radii.
Rotational symmetry with translational symmetry
2-fold rotational symmetry together with single
translational symmetryis one of the Frieze groups. There are two rotocenters per primitive cell.
Together with double translational symmetry the rotation groups are the following
wallpaper groups, with axes per primitive cell:
*p2 (2222): 4×2-fold; rotation group of a
parallelogrammic, rectangular, and rhombic lattice.
*p3 (333): 3×3-fold; "not" the rotation group of any lattice (every lattice is upside-down the same, but that does not apply for this symmetry); it is e.g. the rotation group of the regular triangular tiling with the equilateral triangles alternatingly colored.
*p4 (442): 2×4-fold, 2×2-fold; rotation group of a square lattice.
*p6 (632): 1×6-fold, 2×3-fold, 3×2-fold; rotation group of a
*2-fold rotocenters (including possible 4-fold and 6-fold), if present at all, form the translate of a lattice equal to the translational lattice, scaled by a factor 1/2. In the case translational symmetry in one dimension, a similar property applies, though the term "lattice" does not apply.
*3-fold rotocenters (including possible 6-fold), if present at all, form a regular hexagonal lattice equal to the translational lattice, rotated by 30° (or equivalently 90°), and scaled by a factor
*4-fold rotocenters, if present at all, form a regular square lattice equal to the translational lattice, rotated by 45°, and scaled by a factor
*6-fold rotocenters, if present at all, form a regular hexagonal lattice which is the translate of the translational lattice.
Scaling of a lattice divides the number of points per unit area by the square of the scale factor. Therefore the number of 2-, 3-, 4-, and 6-fold rotocenters per primitive cell is 4, 3, 2, and 1, respectively, again including 4-fold as a special case of 2-fold, etc.
3-fold rotational symmetry at one point and 2-fold at another one (or ditto in 3D with respect to parallel axes) implies rotation group p6, i.e. double translational symmetry and 6-fold rotational symmetry at some point (or, in 3D, parallel axis). The translation distance for the symmetry generated by one such pair of rotocenters is 2√3 times their distance.
Point groups in three dimensions
Crystallographic restriction theorem
* [http://www.mathsisfun.com/geometry/symmetry-rotational.html Rotational Symmetry Examples] from
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