Transcendental equation

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A transcendental equation is an equation containing a transcendental function of the variable(s) being solved for. Such equations often do not have closed-form solutions. Examples include:

  x &= e^{-x} \\
  x &= \cos x

Solvable transcendental equations[edit]

Equations where the variable to be solved for appears only once, as an argument to the transcendental function, are easily solvable with inverse functions; similarly if the equation can be factored or transformed to such a case:

Equation Solutions
\ln x =3 x = e^3
\sin x = 0 x = \pi n (for n an integer)
\cos x = \sin {2 x} using the double-angle formula, equivalent to \sin 2x = 2 \sin x \cos x; whose solutions are those of \cos x = 0 and of 2\sin x = 1, namely x = 2 \pi n + \pi/2 and x = {2 \pi m} / 3 + \pi/6 (for m, n integers)

Some transcendental equations can be shown to have no real solution, or to have only trivial solutions.

Equation Solutions
e^x=x No real solutions, as e^x > x for all x
\sin x = x  x = 0 is the only real solution

Some can be solved because they are compositions of algebraic functions with transcendental functions.

Equation Solutions
3\;2^x - 2 = 4^x solve 3\;q - 2 = q^2, giving q=1 or q=2, then 2^x=q, so x=0 or x=1

But most equations where the variable appears both as an argument to a transcendental function and elsewhere in the equation are not solvable in closed form.

Approximate solutions[edit]

Approximate numerical solutions to transcendental equations can be found using numerical, analytical approximations, or graphical methods.

Numerical methods for solving arbitrary equations are called root-finding algorithms.

In some cases, the equation can be well approximated using Taylor series near the zero. For example, for k \approx 1, the solutions of \sin x = k x are approximately those of (1-k) x - x^3/3, namely x=0 and x = \plusmn \sqrt{6} \sqrt{1-k}.

For a graphical solution, one method is to set each side of a single variable transcendental equation equal to a dependent variable and plot the two graphs, using their intersecting points to find solutions.

In some cases, special functions can be used to write the solutions to transcendental equations in closed form. In particular, x = e^{-x} has a solution in terms of the Lambert W Function.