Fractal (Encyclopedia of Science)
A fractal is a geometric figure with two special properties. First, it is irregular, fractured, fragmented, or loosely connected in appearance. Second, it is self-similar; that is, the figure looks much the same no matter how far away or how close up it is viewed.
The term fractal was invented by Polish French mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (1924) in 1975. He took the word from the Latin word fractus, which means "broken."
The idea behind fractals is fairly simple and obvious when explained. But the mathematics used to develop those ideas is not so simple.
Most objects in nature do not have simple geometric shapes. Clouds, trees, and mountains, for example, usually do not look like circles, triangles, or pyramids. Instead, they can best be described as fractals. Natural objects that can be described as fractals are called natural fractals.
One of the natural objects most often used to explain fractals is a coastline. A coastline has the three properties typical of any fractal figure. First, a coastline is irregular, consisting of bays, harbors, and peninsulas. By definition, any fractal must be irregular in shape.
Second, the irregularity is basically the same at all levels of magnification. Whether viewed from orbit high above Earth, from a...
(The entire section is 926 words.)
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