The Poisson distribution is a discrete probability distribution on the natural numbers $0,1,2,\dots$. Its density function depends on one parameter $\mu$ and is given by

$$d(n) = \frac{e^{-\mu}\mu^n}{n!}$$

Not surprisingly, the parameter $\mu$ is the mean, which follows from the exponential series

$$e^x = \sum_{n=0}^\infty \frac{x^n}{n!}$$

Here is what the density function looks like when $\mu=5$:

How does the Poisson distribution actually arise?

It comes from the following process: suppose you have a fixed interval of time, and you observe the number of occurrences of some phenomenon. In practice, it might be ‘the number of buses to arrive at a given bus stop’. Whatever it is, you’re counting something.

Moreover, this process has to satisfy the important “Poisson axiom”: if you take two disjoint intervals of time that are small, then the number of occurrences in the first is independent of the number of occurrences in the second. Here, “small” means that as the size of the intervals approaches zero, the results should approach independence.

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