This series of posts concerns solving the following problem from the 2016 University of Maryland High School Mathematics Competition.
A sphere is divided into regions by 9 planes that are passing through its center. What is the largest possible number of regions that are created on its surface?
This series was actually written by my friend Jeff Cagle, department head for mathematics at Chapelgate Christian Academy, as he tried technique after technique to solve this problem. I thought that his resolution to the problem was an excellent example of the process of mathematical problem-solving, and (with his permission) I am posting the process of his solution here. (For the record, I have no doubt that I would not have been able to solve this problem.)
OK, so I wanted to prove that each region would be a triangle. So I decided to project the sphere onto a plane.
- Plane 1 – equator (this always happens: Just make plane 1 the equator) 𝑃1(0𝑁, 0𝐸).
- Plane 2 – Prime Meridian 𝑃2(90𝑁, 0𝐸)
- Plane 3 – Intl Date Line 𝑃3(90𝑁, 90𝐸)
- Plane 4 – at an angle to all of those 𝑃4(45𝑁, 45𝐸)
Here is our mapping with P1, P2, and P3 on it:
Now, how to represent P4? Aha! The inside of the unit circle is the southern hemisphere, and the outside is the northern. P4 must hit the equator a two points 180 degrees apart, go inside the southern hemisphere, and then outside to the northern. Thus:
The white region is a NONtriangular region created by the intersection of four planes. These are strange-looking regions, and I spent a long time – several days – vainly trying to count max regions created when I added P5, P6 etc. But one thing was clear: not all of the regions are triangular, nor can they be. For if a plane (say P4) cuts through a triangular region, it will create a new triangular region and a non-triangular “quadrilateral”, as in the figure below. So counting triangles from points is NOT the solution here!