Steven R. Dunbar
Department of Mathematics
203 Avery Hall
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, NE 68588-0130
Probability Theory and Stochastic Processes
Steven R. Dunbar
Stirling’s Formula Derived from Elementary Sequences and Series
Mathematicians Only: prolonged scenes of intense rigor.
What is the geometric summation formula? How can you use the geometric sum formula to derive the series expansion for ? What do you need to know about the geometric sum formula in order to justify its use to derive the series expansion for ?
Stirling’s Formula, also called Stirling’s Approximation, is the asymptotic relation
The formula is useful in estimating large factorial values, but its main mathematical value is in limits involving factorials. Another attractive form of Stirling’s Formula is:
An improved inequality version of Stirling’s Formula is
See Stirling’s Formula. in MathWorld.com.
Here we rigorously derive Stirling’s Formula using elementary sequences and series expansions of the logarithm function, based on the sketch in Kazarinoﬀ  which is in turn based on the note by Nanjundiah .
Remark. This form of Stirling’s Formula is weaker than the usual form since it does not give direct estimates on . On the other hand,it avoids the determination of the asymptotic constant which usually requires Wallis’s Formula or equivalent. For many purposes of estimation or limit taking this version of Stirling’s Formula is suﬃcient, and the proof is elementary. The proof is taken from [5, pages314-315].
Proof. Start from the series expansion for the exponential function and then estimate:
On the other hand, by dropping all but the term from the series expansion for the exponential. Rearranging these two inequalities
Now take the th root of each term, and use the fact that as . □
Let . Then and .
Proof. Left as an exercise. □
Note then that
Now coarsely estimating the denominators
Let , so . Observe that as and . Because for (proof left as an exercise) is decreasing from to as increases. Hence .
By Lemma 2
The sum is a geometric sum, so
Expand in partial fractions and add throughout to obtain
Deﬁne , so Lemma 3 shows that is an increasing sequence, . That is,
Deﬁne , and then the left-side inequality in Lemma 3 shows that is a decreasing sequence that is, . By the deﬁnition of and , and , so as . Therefore and call the common value . By continuity, .
Using elementary properties of limits
The easy demonstration is left as an exercise.
Proof. See the proofs in Wallis Formula.. □
Using the continuity of the square root function
Now multiplying both sides by and rewriting the leading square root sequence, obtain
equation 4 is
Equivalently, unwrapping the deﬁnition of this is exactly Stirling’s Formula
Using the deﬁnitions and , the inequality , and the least upper bound and greatest lower bound limit in equation (3) we can express Stirling’s Formula in inequality form
This is almost as good as the inequality (1).
Remark. This proof of Stirling’s Formula and the inequality (1) is the easiest, the shortest and the most elementary of the proofs that I present. These are all deﬁnite advantages. The main disadvantage of this proof is that it requires the form of Stirling’s Formula before starting, in order to create the sequence which is the main object of the proof.
Remark. This lemma is based on a remark due to I. Schur, see , problem 168, on page 38 with solution on page 215
Proof. The derivative of the function (deﬁned on ) is
and . It follows that and so when and , and when and . The monotonicity of follows. □
From the lemma, for every there is a positive integer such that
for all . As a consequence, we obtain
Rearrange the products with telescoping cancelations, using the upper bound on the right as an example.
Multiply by the last fraction by and Write more compactly,
This uses the “double factorial” notation if is even, and if is odd. The lower bound product on the left is similar.
That is, after multiplying through by ,
for all . Using the Wallis Formula,
Stirling’s formula follows by passing to the limit as .
Remark. This proof can be extended to an asymptotic formula for the Gamma function using log-convexity of the Gamma function. See .
The weak form of Stirling’s Formula is taken from . The ﬁrst sequence proof is mostly adapted from the sketch in Kazarinoﬀ  which is in turn based on the note Nanjundiah . The second sequence proof using derivatives and monotonicity is adapted from .
 Dorin Ervin Dutkay, Constantin P. Niculescu, and Florin Popvici. Stirling’s formula and its extension for the Gamma function. American Mathematical Monthly, 120:737–740, October 2013. available as http:dx.doi.org/10.4169/amer.math.monthly.120.08.737.
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