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I would like to make density plots of a list of (size 2 or 3) spherical harmonics on the surface of a sphere. I'd like to plot it so that each element of that list is using a different color (red density plot for the first one, blue for the next, green... and so on)

I tried using ColorFunction like

SphericalPlot3D[1, {θ, 0, Pi}, {ϕ, 0, 2 Pi}, 
 ColorFunction -> 
  Function[{x, y, z, θ, ϕ, r}, 
   RGBColor[Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, 1, θ, ϕ]]^2, 
    Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, 0, θ, ϕ]]^2, 
    Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, -1, θ, ϕ]]^2]]]

but all I get is some dark-green sphere. Is there a function like SphericalDensityPlot so that I can illustrate the functions?

Also, a big problem I'm running into is the ambient lighting direction, which interferes with what it's supposed to look like.

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Have a look at this post/answer that might be of help. – Matariki Aug 26 '12 at 23:26
up vote 31 down vote accepted

Instead of individually controlling the RGB colors, which is much harder, use the output of your function (a scalar) as the input to some color function.

Here's an example:

SphericalPlot3D[1, {θ, 0, π}, {Φ, 0, 2 π}, 
     ColorFunction -> Function[{x, y, z, θ, Φ, r}, 
         ColorData["DarkRainbow"][Cos[5 θ] + Cos[4 Φ]/2]], 
     ColorFunctionScaling -> False, Mesh -> False, Boxed -> False, Axes -> False]

enter image description here

Your original function didn't have much variability. Specifically, it doesn't vary in Φ and very little in θ. You can see it in this Manipulate:

            Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, 1, θ, Φ]]^2, 
            Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, 0, θ, Φ]]^2, 
            Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, -1, θ, Φ]]^2
    {θ, 0, 2 π}, {Φ, 0, 2 π}
share|improve this answer
Did you add e.g. PlotPoints -> 200 to produce your first graphic, or does v8 output that smooth result by default? (+1) – Mr.Wizard Aug 27 '12 at 2:51
@Mr.Wizard Not by default :) I increased it in my figure above, but left it out in the code because it'd unnecessarily slow things down – R. M. Aug 27 '12 at 2:58
@Mr. Wizard, that's a common problem with using solid textures; to get really smooth-looking colors, you need to use a large number of polygons (and thus, a large value of PlotPoints). The advantage is that the colors "fit" naturally; you do not have to reckon formulae for mapping a flat image into your surface. (Some of the previous Perlin noise-related work I've done before required lots of PlotPoints and lots of time for rendering, for instance.) – J. M. Aug 27 '12 at 9:19
@rm-rf I'm confused about how ColorFunctionScaling->False works in your first code. Why you want to add this? Besides, for the documentation of ColorFunctionScaling, it mentions "specifies whether arguments supplied to a color function should be scaled to lie between 0 and 1." Why does this scale in the context matter? – Lawerance Sep 5 '14 at 6:20

An alternative to R.M's method that became available in version eight is the Texture[] directive, which allows one to wrap textures on surfaces. For this application, we can wrap the output of DensityPlot[] (after some postprocessing with Image[]) on a sphere. One benefit to this approach is that DensityPlot[] takes care of scaling the spherical harmonics before feeding their values to the ColorFunction.

For instance, to use $\Re(Y_\ell^m(\theta,\phi))$ as the texture, we can do this:

ReYDensityPlot[ℓ_Integer, m_Integer] := Block[{ymap, θ, ϕ},
  ymap = Image[DensityPlot[
               Re[SphericalHarmonicY[ℓ, m, θ, ϕ]] // Evaluate,
                        {ϕ, 0, 2 π}, {θ, 0, π}, AspectRatio -> Automatic, 
               ColorFunction -> "DarkRainbow", Frame -> False, 
               ImagePadding -> None, PerformanceGoal -> "Quality", 
               PlotPoints -> 55, PlotRange -> All, PlotRangePadding -> None], 
               ImageResolution -> 144];
  ParametricPlot3D[{Cos[ϕ] Sin[θ], Sin[ϕ] Sin[θ], Cos[θ]},
                   {ϕ, 0, 2 π}, {θ, 0, π}, Lighting -> "Neutral", 
                   Mesh -> None, PlotStyle -> Texture[ymap], 
                   TextureCoordinateFunction -> ({#4, #5} &)]]

Note the use of Lighting -> "Neutral" so that all lights used for the surface are white.

(I know I could have used SphericalPlot3D[], but I wanted an explicit reminder of the coordinate system convention being used, as I am more accustomed to using $\theta$ as longitude and $\varphi$ as co-latitude.)

Now, pictures!

GraphicsGrid[Table[ReYDensityPlot[ℓ, m], {ℓ, 0, 3}, {m, 0, ℓ}], ImageSize -> Full]

spherical harmonic density plots on sphere

share|improve this answer
For the interested, here is a version that uses a different coloring scheme... – J. M. Aug 27 '12 at 13:11
I am wondering what do #4 #5 refer to in your first code? – Lawerance Sep 5 '14 at 6:51
That would correspond to the parameters ϕ and θ. – J. M. May 1 '15 at 19:30

=== Update - all color gradients ===

You should check out some of the related Demonstrations. This is my version - a close reproduction of Wikipedia figures found on this page. Note, $l \geq |m|$ conditions is imposed. The code is below the image.

enter image description here

Manipulate[If[m > l, m = l];
   (* formula *)
   TraditionalForm@SphericalHarmonicY[l, m, θ, ϕ],
   (* graphics *)
   SphericalPlot3D[1, {θ, 0, π}, {ϕ, 0, 2 π},
    ColorFunction -> (gradients[
        t (.5 + f[SphericalHarmonicY[l, m, #4, #5]])] &),
    Mesh -> False, Boxed -> False, Axes -> False, 
    ColorFunctionScaling -> False,
    PlotPoints -> 100, SphericalRegion -> True, ViewAngle -> .3, 
    ImageSize -> 400]
   }, Alignment -> Center],
 (* controls *)
 {{l, 5}, 0, 10, 1, Setter},
 {{m, 2}, 0, 10, 1, Setter},
 {{f, Re}, {Re, Im, Abs}},
 {{t, 1.2, "focus"}, .5, 1.5, Appearance -> "Labeled", 
  ImageSize -> Small}, {{gradients, 
    "Rainbow"]}, (ColorData[#] -> 
      Show[ColorData[#, "Image"], ImageSize -> 100]) & /@ 
 ControlPlacement -> Left]

=== Simpler older version using Hue ===

Manipulate[If[m > l, m = l]; 
 SphericalPlot3D[1, {θ, 0, π}, {ϕ, 0, 2 π}, 
  ColorFunction -> (Hue[f[SphericalHarmonicY[l, m, #4, #5]] - .7] &), 
  Mesh -> False, Boxed -> False, Axes -> False, 
  ColorFunctionScaling -> False, PlotPoints -> 100, 
  SphericalRegion -> True, ViewAngle -> .3], {{l, 5}, 0, 10, 1, 
  Setter}, {{m, 2}, 0, 10, 1, Setter}, {{f, Re}, {Re, Im, Abs}}]

enter image description here

share|improve this answer
Very cool! Add a choice of color schemes, and then we're cooking! :D – J. M. Aug 27 '12 at 10:03

Adding the option ColorFunctionScaling->False, and putting directional light sources:

SphericalPlot3D[1, {θ, 0, Pi}, {Φ, 0, 2 Pi},
  ColorFunction -> (Function[{x, y, z, θ, Φ, r},
    RGBColor[Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, 1, θ, Φ]]^2,
      Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, 0, θ, Φ]]^2,
      Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, -1, θ, Φ]]^2]]),
 ColorFunctionScaling -> False,
 Lighting -> ({"Directional", White, #} & /@ Tuples[{-1, 1, -1/2}, 3])]


colored sphere

Update: As an alternative to playing with the Lighting option settings, one can enhance the color values by scaling the arguments of RGBColor[...] up by a factor:

Manipulate[ SphericalPlot3D[1, {θ, 0, Pi}, {Φ, 0, 2 Pi},
   ColorFunction -> (Function[{x, y, z, θ, Φ, r},
 RGBColor[ s Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, 1, θ, Φ]]^2,
  s Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, 0, θ, Φ]]^2,
  s Abs[SphericalHarmonicY[1, -1, θ, Φ]]^2]]),
 ColorFunctionScaling -> False],
{{s, 10, "s"}, .5, 20, .5, Appearance -> "Labeled"}]

Manipulate[] interface

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