Plotting non-overlapping circles…

June 22, 2012

(This article was first published on gRaphics!, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

It’s holiday today in Sweden, so happy Midsummer to everyone!!! (I know, it’s delayed)

No work for me, so I checked up the latest XKCD:

Gorgeous, right? So I decided to see if I could make something similar – but being lazy, I didn’t feel like drawing all circles one by one… I decided to try and have R do it for me instead.

The trick is in drawing the n-th circle avoiding to plot over the previous (n-1). The rest is eye-candy.

So, first of all, you need a data set: you can get the original one from (I presume), if you like. At first I tried but then I just decided to use a randomly generated set:

N<-650 # number of exoplanets
R<-1000 # radius of a 2D-circle where you’ll want to plot them
MinMass<-5; # minimum mass for the planets
MaxMass<-100; # maximum mass for the planets
P<-6 # power exponent for the mass distribution
Q<-3 # this exponent scales the mass to radii…
margin<-mean(c(MinMass,MaxMass)); # a minimum separation you want to mantain between planets when plotted
# a function to name each planet with a random string of letters (optional)
getRandString<-function(len=8) return(paste(sample(c(LETTERS,letters),len,replace=TRUE),collapse=”))

I redorder the exoplanets in order of mass, so that they’ll be printed from the largest to the samllest… it makes it easier later on to generate the plot, a bit like it’s easier filling a bucket with rocks, then  with gravel, then with sand, than doing it the other way around…

exoplanets<-list(Mass=sort(runif(N, MinMass^(1/P), MaxMass^(1/P))^P, decreasing=TRUE), Name=replicate(n=N, getRandString()))

Ok, so now we have a bunch of data which looks like this:

> exoplanets$Name[1:5]
[1] “lRnrqjcQ” “YuhcqSTO” “MmrAZvzi” “ROMpQwlZ” “epnBwmtj”
> exoplanets$Mass[1:5]
[1] 99.98406 99.43530 99.26070 98.80203 98.50710

next we define a matrix where to store the x and y values needed for plotting, together with a  function to generate those values:

mtrx<-matrix(nrow=N, ncol=2); colnames(mtrx)<-c(‘x’,’y’)
getxy_withinR<-function(R=10) {
r<-runif(1,0,R^2)^(1/2); theta<-runif(1,0,2*pi);

as some of you may have spotted, the x/y values are generated within circle of a given radius, at an angle theta randomly chosen. Importantly, in order not to crowd the origin, I apply a 1/r^2 scaling to the coordinates being generated…
Now it’s time to set up a function to check if a bubble is bumping on any other:

check_bounce <- function(x,y,rad,X,Y,RAD) {
distance<-sqrt((X-x)^2 + (Y-y)^2); # print (paste(“distance is “,distance))
radsum<-RAD^(1/Q)+rad^(1/Q)+margin; # print(paste(“radius sum is “,radsum))
return(sum(distance < radsum))

I just compute the distance from another (set of) bubble(s)… The function will soon be applied but first let’s draw an empty plot:

plot(NULL, xlim=c(-lim,lim), ylim=c(-lim,lim))

Now it’s the time to loop over all bubbles to generate the coordinates, check if they bump with others, and draw them in many colors… 

for (n in 1:N) {
print(paste(“placing”,n, exoplanets$Name[n]))
# generate new coordinates
xy<-getxy_withinR(R); x<-xy[1]; y<-xy[2];
if (n!=1) {
while(overlap<-check_bounce(x,y,exoplanets$Mass[n],mtrx[tocheck,’x’],mtrx[tocheck,’y’],exoplanets$Mass[tocheck]) > 0)
xy<-getxy_withinR(R); x<-xy[1]; y<-xy[2];
mtrx[n,’x’]<-x; mtrx[n,’y’]<-y;
# draw a circle once you know where
exoplanets$X[n]<-xy[1]; exoplanets$Y[n]<-xy[2];$X[n], y=exoplanets$Y[n], r=exoplanets$Mass[n]^(2/Q), col=rgb(runif(1,0,1),runif(1,0,1),runif(1,0,1),(0.5+n/(2*N))), border=rgb(runif(1,0,1),runif(1,0,1),runif(1,0,1),(0.5+n/(2*N))))
# Sys.sleep(0.03)

I draw the large ones first, and I keep them semi-transparent, decreasing the transparency as I go forward, in the hope that this will make it easier to spot new bubbles appearing when the plot is crowded… Judge yourself if it works:
I know, it doesn’t really look like Randall’s drawing at XKCD – it’s tricky to compactify all the bubbles without overlapping them… and the dumb algo I came up with to check bumps doesn’t scale very well… 
I’ve toyed with the idea of making the bubbles into a dynamic system with some attraction and repulsion, letting it evolve to an equilibrium state… But I didn’t want to get too bogged down with it… perhaps later…
For the moment, it’s close enough. It’s sunny outside and I deserve some cycling time. Source code is below: 

Never mind my dumb attempt – here’s a better solution in a blog post I wasn’t aware of:

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