Republic of Mathematics blog

Some curly questions on the base 3 digits of powers of 2

Posted by: Gary Ernest Davis on: December 6, 2010

Representing positive integers base 3

Positive whole numbers can easily be written in base 3, there where we allow the digits 0, 1, 2

For example: 4 = 1	imes 3^1 + 1	imes 3^0 which we write as 4=11_3, where the notation picks out the digits 1	extrm{ and } 1 and puts a subscript “3” to remind us that these digits need to be multiplied by appropriate powers of 3 and then added.

Using this notation 7=21_3 and 8=22_3 because 7=2	imes3^1+1	imes3^0	extrm{ and } 8=2	imes3^1+2	imes3^0

Base 3 digits of powers of 2

How do the base 3 representations of powers of 2 look?

Here are the base 3 digits of the first 50 powers of 2:

n Base 3 digits of 2^n
0 1
1 2
2 11
3 22
4 121
5 1012
6 2101
7 11202
8 100111
9 200222
10 1101221
11 2210212
12 12121201
13 102020102
14 211110211
15 1122221122
16 10022220021
17 20122210112
18 111022121001
19 222122012002
20 1222021101011
21 10221112202022
22 21220002111121
23 120210012000012
24 1011120101000101
25 2100010202000202
26 11200021111001111
27 100100112222002222
28 200201002221012221
29 1101102012212102212
30 2202211102201212201
31 12112122212110202102
32 102002022201221111211
33 211011122110220000122
34 1122100021221210001021
35 10021200120220120002112
36 20120101011211010012001
37 111010202100122020101002
38 222021111201021110202011
39 1221120000102112221111022
40 10220010000212002212222121
41 21210020001201012202222012
42 120120110010102102112221101
43 1011010220020211212002212202
44 2022021210111200201012202111
45 11121120121000101102102111222
46 100020011012000202211212000221
47 200110022101001112200201001212
48 1100220121202010002101102010201
49 2201211020111020011202211021102

x

How do the numbers of base 3 digits of 2^n vary with n?

Below are plots of the number of occurrences of digits 0, 1, 2 in the base 3 representation of 2^n for 0leq nleq 5000:

 

When we plot the running average of the number of occurrences of the digit 2 in the base 3 representation of 2^n – that is, the average of the numbers in the third (red) plot above from the very beginning – we get a remarkably straight line:

Erdös conjecture on the digit 2

Paul Erdös noticed that the base 3 representation of 2^8 contains no 2 digit, but that after that the base 3 representation of powers of 2 seem to always contain the digit 2. He conjectured this is so, and to this day no-one knows whether this is true or not.

If we look again we see that in this list the base 3 representation of 2^{25} contains the digit 2 twice, and that seems to be true for the other powers 2^n with ngeq 25

Put another way, n=24 seems it might be the last integer for which the base 3 representation of 2^n contains just one occurrence of the digit 2, just as n=8 seems to be the last integer for which the base 3 representation of 2^n contains no occurrences of the digit 2.

We can carry out a search for those integers N(k) that are the last integer for which the base 3 representation of 2^n contains k  or less occurrences of the digit 2.

The search reported below was restricted to 0leq nleq 50000.

k N(k) = largest n such that 2^n contains leq k occurrences of the digit 2 (0leq nleq 50000)
0 8
1 24
2 26
3 26
4 36
5 36
6 37
7 42
8 48
9 54
10 76
11 76
12 76
13 76
14 76
15 78
16 110
17 111
18 121
19 134
20 134

Note that N(2)=N(3)= 26.

This means that for  all integers n >26 the base 3 representation contains more than 2, and more than 3, occurrences of the digit 2.

As we can see from the first table above, when n>26 it seems that the base 3 representation of 2^n contains at least 4 occurrences of the digit 2. This remains true in the range 0leq nleq 50000.

A plot of the estimates of N(k)	extrm{ versus } k is shown below:

These are only estimates because we do not know for sure that further calculations for a larger range of n might not change these values.

We do not have proofs for any of these estimates.

The occurrence and growth of the digits of 2^n in base 3 offer plenty of scope for experimentation by school students and undergraduate students of mathematics.

It seems we can obtain good guesses about the appearance of these digits, without yet knowing in any way how to prove any of these guesses.

2 Responses to "Some curly questions on the base 3 digits of powers of 2"

I wonder what happens with balanced ternary instead of ternary notation?

Or powers of other numbers, in other bases.

Those are very good questions, Peter.

I think other powers and other bases give similar empirical results.

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