|Ivars Peterson's MathTrek|
February 5, 2001
The total number of pairs, month by month, forms the sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, and so on. Each new term is the sum of the previous two terms. This set of numbers is now called the Fibonacci sequence.
The Fibonacci numbers, F[x] (starting with 0), display a variety of patterns, including several interesting cycles. For example, the sequence begins with the numbers F = 0, F = 1, F = 1, F  = 2, F = 3, and F = 5. The same numbers appear in the same order as the final digits of F = 1,548,008,755,920; F = 2,504,730,781,961; F = 4,052,739,537,881; F = 6,557,470,319,842; and so on. The same pattern holds for F = 5,358,359,254,990,966,640,871,840; F = 8,670,007,398,507,948,658,051,921; F = 14,028,366,653,498,915,298,923,761; and so on. In other words, the final digits repeat every 60 values.
A cycle of 60 also plays an important role in the Chinese lunar calendar. The calendar uses two-character combinations to name each year. The first character represents one of the 10 "celestial stems," and the second character represents one of the 12 "earthly branches." The earthly branches constitute the Chinese zodiac of 12 animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. According to the Chinese calendar, we've just entered the year of the snake.
The combination of a celestial stem cycle of 10 signs with a zodiac cycle of 12 animals generates 60 distinct year names (six cycles of stems and five cycles of branches). As a result, the years have names that are repeated every 60 years.
The curious coincidence of the Fibonacci cycle and the Chinese calendar cycle allowed Seok Sagong of Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Conn., to establish a one-to-one correspondence between the sequence of final digits of Fibonacci numbers and the names of years in the Chinese calendar. He described that relationship at last month's Joint Mathematics Meetings in New Orleans.
Using Seok Sagong's scheme, you can determine the year in the Chinese calendar that corresponds to any given Fibonacci number. Hence, the first year of the primary Chinese calendar cycle, jia-zi, corresponds to the first Fibonacci number, F. The 60th year, gui-hai, corresponds to the 60th Fibonacci number, F.
Copyright 2001 by Ivars Peterson
Sagong, Seok. 2001. A connection between the final digits of Fibonacci numbers and Chinese zodiac. Abstracts of Papers Presented to the American Mathematical Society 22(No. 1):31.
Additional information about the Chinese calendar can be found at http://www.math.nus.edu.sg/aslaksen/calendar/chinese.shtml, http://webexhibits.org/calendars/calendar-chinese.html, and http://www.friesian.com/chinacal.htm.
The mathematics of the Fibonacci sequence is highlighted at http://www.mcs.surrey.ac.uk/Personal/R.Knott/Fibonacci/fibmaths.html.
Ivars Peterson is the mathematics/computer writer and online editor at Science News (http://www.sciencenews.org). He is the author of The Mathematical Tourist, Islands of Truth, Newton's Clock, Fatal Defect, and The Jungles of Randomness. He also writes for the children's magazine Muse (http://www.musemag.com) and is working on a book about math and art.
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Math Trek 2: A Mathematical Space Odyssey by Ivars Peterson and Nancy Henderson. For children ages 10 and up. New York: Wiley, 2001. ISBN 0-471-31571-0. $12.95 USA (paper).