# Steiner Chain

In geometry, a Steiner chain is a set of n circles, all of which are tangent to two given non-intersecting circles (blue and red in Figure 1), where n is finite and each circle in the chain is tangent to the previous and next circles in the chain. In the usual closed Steiner chains, the first and last (nth) circles are also tangent to each other; by contrast, in open Steiner chains, they need not be. The given circles α and β do not intersect, but otherwise are unconstrained; the smaller circle may lie completely inside or outside of the larger circle. In these cases, the centers of Steiner-chain circles lie on an ellipse or a hyperbola, respectively.

Steiner chains are named after Jakob Steiner, who defined them in the 19th century and discovered many of their properties. A fundamental result is Steiner's porism, which states:

If at least one closed Steiner chain of n circles exists for two given circles α and β, then there is an infinite number of closed Steiner chains of n circles; and any circle tangent to α and β in the same way is a member of such a chain.

"Tangent in the same way" means that the arbitrary circle is internally or externally tangent in the same way as a circle of the original Steiner chain. A porism is a type of theorem relating to the number of solutions and the conditions on it. Porisms often describe a geometrical figure that cannot exist unless a condition is met, but otherwise may exist in infinite number; another example is Poncelet's porism.

The method of circle inversion is helpful in treating Steiner chains. Since it preserves tangencies, angles and circles, inversion transforms one Steiner chain into another of the same number of circles. One particular choice of inversion transforms the given circles α and β into concentric circles; in this case, all the circles of the Steiner chain have the same size and can "roll" around in the annulus between the circles similar to ball bearings. This standard configuration allows several properties of Steiner chains to be derived, e.g., its points of tangencies always lie on a circle. Several generalizations of Steiner chains exist, most notably Soddy's hexlet and Pappus chains.

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To shoot a man because one disagrees with his interpretation of Darwin or Hegel is a sinister tribute to the supremacy of ideas in human affairs—but a tribute nevertheless.
—George Steiner (b. 1929)

Oft, in the stilly night, Ere Slumber’s chain has bound me, Fond Memory brings the light Of other days around me.
Thomas Moore (1779–1852)