Real Exponents

The closest we can actually get to most real numbers is to compute a rational number that is as close as we need. It can be shown that rational numbers are dense in the real numbers; that is, between every two real numbers there is a rational number, and between every two rational numbers is a real number.3.1An irrational number can be defined as any real number having a non-repeating decimal expansion. For example, $ \sqrt{2}$ is an irrational real number whose decimal expansion starts out as3.2

$\displaystyle \sqrt{2} =
1.414213562373095048801688724209698078569671875376948073176679\dots
$

Every truncated, rounded, or repeating expansion is a rational number. That is, it can be rewritten as an integer divided by another integer. For example,

$\displaystyle 1.414 = \frac{1414}{1000}
$

and, using $ \overline{\mbox{overbar}}$ to denote the repeating part of a decimal expansion, a repeating example is as follows:

\begin{eqnarray*}
x &=& 0.\overline{123} \\ [5pt]
\quad\Rightarrow\quad 1000x &=...
...999x &=& 123\\ [5pt]
\quad\Rightarrow\quad x &=& \frac{123}{999}
\end{eqnarray*}

Other examples of irrational numbers include

\begin{eqnarray*}
\pi &=& 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058...
...82818284590452353602874713526624977572470936999595749669\dots\,.
\end{eqnarray*}

Their decimal expansions do not repeat.

Let $ {\hat x}_n$ denote the $ n$-digit decimal expansion of an arbitrary real number $ x$. Then $ {\hat x}_n$ is a rational number (some integer over $ 10^n$). We can say

$\displaystyle \lim_{n\to\infty} {\hat x}_n = x.
$

That is, the limit of $ {\hat x}_n$ as $ n$ goes to infinity is $ x$.

Since $ a^{{\hat x}_n}$ is defined for all $ n$, we naturally define $ a^x$ as the following mathematical limit:

$\displaystyle \zbox {a^x \isdef \lim_{n\to\infty} a^{{\hat x}_n}}
$

We have now defined what we mean by real exponents.


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A First Look at Taylor Series
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Rational Exponents