I have a complex but analytical expression that should always evaluate to zero for certain values, but I'm getting strange numerical noise I think I can avoid. The problem seems to occur in a subsection involving logs. Here's the offending section in Mathematica code:

  rn = 250*10^-6; e = 0.75;
  f = e*rn;

  test1[r_, t_] := Log[(r^2 - (f^2) (Cos[t]^2) )/(rn^2  - f^2)];
  t1out = Plot[test1[rn*Sqrt[1 - (e*Sin[t])^2], t], {t, 0, 2*Pi}]

Now, I know when $r = r_{n}\sqrt{1 - (e\sin(t))^2}$, then for any value of $t$,

$\frac{r^2 - f^2\cos^2 (t)}{r_{n}^2 - f^2} = \frac{r_{n}^2 - f^2(\sin^2(t) + \cos^2 (t))}{r_{n}^2 - f^2} = 1$

and so the log should always be zero. And for some values of $t$this holds - but for others, I get weird oscillating errors...


These are very small (order $10^{-16}$) but I think they're avoidable, especially as uncorrected they might mess up some other outputs I need. Is there a way to eradicate this numerical noise, given there's an analytic answer?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Since you are working with machine numbers, this numerical noise is unavoidable. But you can wrap test1 in Chop for suppressing the noise.. $\endgroup$ May 17, 2018 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ Though this question is a "simple mistake" as per the close reasons, machine numbers are lately one of my favorite topics. +1 $\endgroup$
    – LLlAMnYP
    May 17, 2018 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, very interesting! $\endgroup$
    – DRG
    May 21, 2018 at 13:57

1 Answer 1


It is a precision issue.

rn = 250*10^-6;
e = 3/4; (* use exact numbers for parameters *)
f = e*rn;

test1[r_, t_] := Log[(r^2 - (f^2) (Cos[t]^2))/(rn^2 - f^2)];

Use arbitrary precision rather than machine precision.

t1out = Plot[test1[rn*Sqrt[1 - (e*Sin[t])^2], t], {t, 0, 2*Pi}, 
  WorkingPrecision -> 10]

enter image description here

EDIT: Alternatively, use Simplify and Evaluate

t1out = Plot[
  test1[rn*Sqrt[1 - (e*Sin[t])^2], t] // Simplify // Evaluate, {t, 0, 2*Pi}]
  • $\begingroup$ Cheers Bob - makes sense now! I figured it'd evaluate first but doing this forces it to do so! $\endgroup$
    – DRG
    May 21, 2018 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ @DRG - If you evaluate Attributes[Plot] you will see that Plot has the attribute HoldAll so evaluation does not occur initially unless forced by use of Evaluate. $\endgroup$
    – Bob Hanlon
    May 21, 2018 at 14:25

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