The Riemann Sphere

Since I am currently teaching complex function theory I am interested in visualizations of Möbius transformations as well as other analytic functions. The Riemann Sphere together with the Stereographic Projection is a good tool for this.

Above you see the basic idea. The points on the sphere are projected along a line through the north pole to the x-y-plane which represents the complex plane. The north pole associates to the point infinity. The formulas for the projection and its inverse are easy to compute with a bit of geometry. I have done so on this page using EMT and Maxima:

It is quite interesting to see what a Möbius transformation does to the Riemann sphere.

In this image, the north and south poles are mapped to the two black points. The other lines are the images of the circles of latitude and longitude. The image can be created by projecting the usual circles (with the poles in place) to the complex plane, applying the Möbius transformation, and projecting back to the sphere.

In fact, the projection and the Möbius transformation map circles or lines to circles or lines. They preserve angles. This is why the Stereographic Projection is often used for maps that should show the correct angles between paths. But, note that great circles that do not path to the pole are not mapped to lines, but to circles. So the shortest path on the surface of the Earth between two points is a circle on the projected map. Locally, this is only approximated by a line segment.

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