A geometric sequence is a sequence of numbers in which each term is a fixed multiple of the previous term. For example: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, ... is a geometric sequence because each term is twice the previous term. In this case, 2 is called the common ratio of the sequence. More formally, a geometric sequence may be defined recursively by:
with a fixed first term and common ratio . Using this definition, the th term has the closed-form:
Summing a Geometric Sequence
The sum of the first terms of a geometric sequence is given by
where is the first term in the sequence, and is the common ratio.
The geometric sequence can be rewritten as where is the number of terms, is the common ratio, and is the first term. Multiplying by yields so .
Infinite Geometric Sequences
An infinite geometric sequence is a geometric sequence with an infinite number of terms. If the common ratio is small, the terms will approach 0 and the sum of the terms will approach a fixed limit. In this case, "small" means . We say that the sum of the terms of this sequence is a convergent sum.
For instance, the series , sums to 2. The general formula for the sum of such a sequence is:
Where is the first term in the sequence, and is the common ratio.
Let the sequence be
Multiplying by yields,
We subtract these two equations to obtain:
There is only one term on the right side of the equation because the rest of the terms cancel out after subtraction. Finally, we can factor and divide to get
This method of multiplying the sequence and subtracting equations, called telescoping, is a frequently used method to evaluate infinite sequences. In fact, the same method can be used to calculate the sum of a finite geometric sequence (given above).
One common instance of summing infinite geometric sequences is the decimal expansion of most rational numbers. For instance, has first term and common ratio , so the infinite sum has value , just as we would have expected.