Generalized Petersen graph

The Dürer graph G(6,2).

In graph theory, the generalized Petersen graphs are a family of cubic graphs formed by connecting the vertices of a regular polygon to the corresponding vertices of a star polygon. They include the Petersen graph and generalize one of the ways of constructing the Petersen graph. The generalized Petersen graph family was introduced in 1950 by H. S. M. Coxeter[1] and these graphs were given their name in 1969 by Mark Watkins.[2]

Definition and notation

In Watkins' notation, G(n,k) is a graph with vertex set

{u0, u1, ..., un1, v0, v1, ..., vn1}

and edge set

{ui ui+1, ui vi, vi vi+k: i = 0,...,n  1}

where subscripts are to be read modulo n and k < n/2. Some authors use a similar notation GPG(n,k) with the same meaning.Coxeter's notation for the same graph would be {n}+{n/k}, a combination of the Schläfli symbols for the regular n-gon and star polygon from which the graph is formed. Any generalized Petersen graph can also be constructed as a voltage graph from a graph with two vertices, two self-loops, and one other edge.[3]

The Petersen graph itself is G(5,2) or {5}+{5/2}.


Among the generalized Petersen graphs are the n-prism G(n,1) the Dürer graph G(6,2), the Möbius-Kantor graph G(8,3), the dodecahedron G(10,2), the Desargues graph G(10,3) and the Nauru graph G(12,5).

Four generalized Petersen graphs – the 3-prism, the 5-prism, the Dürer graph, and G(7,2) – are among the seven graphs that are cubic, 3-vertex-connected, and well-covered (meaning that all of their maximal independent sets have equal size).[4]


One of the three Hamiltonian cycles in G(9,2). The other two Hamiltonian cycles in the same graph are symmetric under 40° rotations of the drawing.

This family of graphs possesses a number of interesting properties. For example,

  1. G(n,k) is vertex-transitive (meaning that it has symmetries that take any vertex to any other vertex) if and only if n = 10 and k =2 or if k2  ±1 (mod n).
  2. It is edge-transitive (having symmetries that take any edge to any other edge) only in the following seven cases: (n,k) = (4,1), (5,2), (8,3), (10,2), (10,3), (12,5), (24,5).[5] These seven graphs are therefore the only symmetric generalized Petersen graphs.
  3. It is bipartite if and only if n is even and k is odd.
  4. It is a Cayley graph if and only if k2  1 (mod n).
  5. It is hypohamiltonian when n is congruent to 5 modulo 6 and k is 2, n2, (n+1)/2, or (n1)/2 (all four of these choices of k lead to isomorphic graphs). It is also non-Hamiltonian when n is divisible by four, at least equal to 8, and k is n/2. In all other cases it has a Hamiltonian cycle.[6] When n is congruent to 3 modulo 6 and k is 2, G(n,k) has exactly three Hamiltonian cycles.[7] For G(n,2), the number of Hamiltonian cycles can be computed by a formula that depends on the congruence class of n modulo six and involves the Fibonacci numbers.[8]

The Petersen graph itself is the only generalized Petersen graph that is not 3-edge-colorable.[9] The generalized Petersen graph G(9,2) is one of the few graphs known to have only one 3-edge-coloring.[10]

Every generalized Petersen graph is a unit distance graph.[11]


  1. Coxeter, H. S. M. (1950), "Self-dual configurations and regular graphs", Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, 56: 413–455, doi:10.1090/S0002-9904-1950-09407-5.
  2. Watkins, Mark E. (1969), "A Theorem on Tait Colorings with an Application to the Generalized Petersen Graphs", Journal of Combinatorial Theory, 6: 152–164, doi:10.1016/S0021-9800(69)80116-X.
  3. Gross, Jonathan L.; Tucker, Thomas W. (1987), Topological Graph Theory, New York: Wiley. Example 2.1.2, p.58.
  4. Campbell, S. R.; Ellingham, M. N.; Royle, Gordon F. (1993), "A characterisation of well-covered cubic graphs", Journal of Combinatorial Mathematics and Combinatorial Computing, 13: 193–212, MR 1220613.
  5. Frucht, R.; Graver, J. E.; Watkins, M. E. (1971), "The groups of the generalized Petersen graphs", Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 70: 211–218, doi:10.1017/S0305004100049811.
  6. Alspach, B. R. (1983), "The classification of Hamiltonian generalized Petersen graphs", Journal of Combinatorial Theory, Series B, 34: 293–312, doi:10.1016/0095-8956(83)90042-4, MR 0714452.
  7. Thomason, Andrew (1982), "Cubic graphs with three Hamiltonian cycles are not always uniquely edge colorable", Journal of Graph Theory, 6 (2): 219–221, doi:10.1002/jgt.3190060218.
  8. Schwenk, Allen J. (1989), "Enumeration of Hamiltonian cycles in certain generalized Petersen graphs", Journal of Combinatorial Theory, Series B, 47 (1): 53–59, doi:10.1016/0095-8956(89)90064-6, MR 1007713.
  9. Castagna, Frank; Prins, Geert (1972), "Every Generalized Petersen Graph has a Tait Coloring", Pacific Journal of Mathematics, 40, doi:10.2140/pjm.1972.40.53.
  10. Bollobás, Béla (2004), Extremal Graph Theory, Dover, p. 233. Reprint of 1978 Academic Press edition.
  11. Žitnik, Arjana; Horvat, Boris; Pisanski, Tomaž (2010), All generalized Petersen graphs are unit-distance graphs (PDF), IMFM preprints, 1109.
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