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Spirals: Windows to Reflective Thought
Jan 1, 2010

Spirals and helices are each a work-of-art and they are found in many dimensions of existence, from galaxies filled with billions of stars to the DNA strands, which we can observe with electron microscopes.

One category of galaxies is the spiral; this is dependent on the galaxies’ appearance. The magnetic field of the Sun is also a spiral. Among many things that have a spiral form are the cochlea inside our ears, our navel cord, our fingerprints, the teeth of mammoths, elephant trunks, some spider webs, the horns of some goats, cluster of sunflowers, thousands of types of mollusks, the pattern in which subatomic particles move, plus many more examples. Grapevine shoots, ivy, some microorganisms, and the positioning of some leaves around their branches are in the form of a helix. Nature displays brilliant examples of spiral and helix forms over a wide spectrum, ranging from fossils to galaxies. Below we will discuss some of them:

The Archimedean spiral

Named after its discoverer, this spiral is the geometrical location of a point which moves across a line turning around a fixed point at the speed of q and with a straight angle (Figure 1). The equation for the polar coordinates is p=aq. The distances between the curves are equal. A good example of this type of spiral is the spider web constructed with equal distances from the center.

The Equiangular (Logarithmic) spiral

This spiral type was defined by Descartes in 1638. In an equiangular spiral, any line that crosses the center cuts through all coils of the curve (Figure 2). The equation for polar coordinates is Inr=a.q or r=ea.q. Sea shells and the shells of snails are formed with this spiral.

Fibonacci Numbers and the Golden Ratio

The following numbers, the sequence of which is made by adding the last two numbers together, are known as Fibonacci numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, … In other words, each number is the sum of the preceding two numbers. Let us divide each number with the preceding one and write down the quotients:

1/1=1; 2/1=2; 3/2=1.5; 5/3=1.666…; 8/5=1.6; 13/8=1.625; 21/13=1.615...; 34/21=1.619...; 55/34=1.6176...; 89/55=1.618…

If we continue to divide in this way, we will reach a mathematical constant, i.e., 1,618034, which is known as the golden ratio (φ).

Let us now draw a new geometrical shape with the Fibonacci numbers. Next to a 1-unit side square put another square that has equal dimensions. Then add another square, this time equaling the sum of the sides of the previous two (2 units). As we continue to add new squares with double the units of the previous two we get what is called the Fibonacci or golden rectangle. When we draw an arc from one corner of this rectangle to an opposite corner and continue drawing through neighboring squares, as in Figure 3, we will get a spiral. A good example of this is the nautilus shell. The golden rectangle and the spiral is frequently used in fine arts, architecture, and technology.

The Helix

The space curves that coil around a cylinder and cut through its main axis at a right angle is called a cylindrical helix (Figure 4). An ivy plant climbs a tree in a helix, and a helix is the shortest distance to a certain height. The Selimiye Mosque, Edirne, Turkey, features one of the best examples of helices in architecture. The architect Sinan designed the minarets of this mosque with three balconies, which are reached via different stairs that have no connections between them.

The 3D Archimedean spiral and the Logarithmic spiral (Helico spirals)

Conical helices are the space curves that coil around a right cone and cut through its main axis at a right angle. Sea snails, or limpets, have this spiral shape (Figure 5).

Galaxies and hurricanes

Galaxies and hurricanes are also spiral in shape and they have some similar features. Sharing the Stamp of Unity, the law of which governs the entire universe, both galaxies and hurricanes are affected by major forces, like the force of gravity, angular momentum or rotation.

Spiral galaxies are divided into two categories: elliptical and barred spiral galaxies. Barred spiral galaxies have arms that extend away from the main core (Figure 6).

(As evidence for a people open to belief) We have assuredly set in the heaven great constellations, and We have made it (the heaven) beautiful for those beholding. (Hijr 15:16)

The Nautilus: A wonder of creation

The hard shell of the nautilus has a beautiful logarithmic spiral shape. Each coil is at a distance from the next at an increasing proportional distance, each coil is multiplied by a constant. The chambers in the shell are similar, but they widen in a geometric sequence. It is amazing that calcium carbonate, the material that makes up the shell, can accumulate in such a way so as to comply with this geometrical pattern. In this pattern, the nautilus occupies the least space that is possible, thus losing as little heat as possible. Architects have been inspired by the nautilus to produce designs to use the smallest possible space to contain the most possible room.

The Cochlea

The cochlea in our ears is like a double-ramp tunnel coiled upon itself. Etymologically, the word cochlea comes from a Greek word that means snail. The spiral shape of the cochlea reminds one of sea shells.


Horns of the sheep and goats have the shape logarithmic spiral; they grow in the form of helicoids, as if coiling around a cone.

The Rose

The leaves of a rose are lined up and shoot out in a spiral shape.

Spirals open for us gateways to thought in our efforts to explore the wisdom and beauty that have been set in motion in the universe and are constantly maintained. Spirals, like other living or non-living objects or beings around us, are exquisite works of art that point to the fact that nothing exists from coincidence. Looking through a telescope to a marvelous galaxy in outer space or examining a sea shell on the beach or holding a rose in the spring may become a rewarding act if we contemplate on their Fashioner, for such “contemplation for an hour is worth voluntary prayer for a year.”