 Ellipsoid

This article is about the shape. For the type of theatrical spotlight, see ellipsoidal reflector spotlight. For the surface that approximates the figure of the Earth, see reference ellipsoid."triaxial" redirects here. For the electrical cable, see Triaxial cable.
An ellipsoid is a closed type of quadric surface that is a higher dimensional analogue of an ellipse. The equation of a standard axisaligned ellipsoid body in an xyzCartesian coordinate system is
where a and b are the equatorial radii (along the x and y axes) and c is the polar radius (along the zaxis), all of which are fixed positive real numbers determining the shape of the ellipsoid.
More generally, an arbitrarily oriented ellipsoid, centered at v, is defined by the equation
where A is a positive definite matrix and x, v are vectors. In that case, the eigenvectors of A define the principal directions of the ellipsoid and the square root of the eigenvalues are the corresponding equatorial radii.
If all three radii are equal, the solid body is a sphere; if two radii are equal, the ellipsoid is a spheroid:
 Sphere;
 Oblate spheroid (diskshaped);
 Prolate spheroid (like a rugby ball);
 Scalene ellipsoid ("three unequal sides").
The points (a,0,0), (0,b,0) and (0,0,c) lie on the surface and the line segments from the origin to these points are called the semiprincipal axes. These correspond to the semimajor axis and semiminor axis of the appropriate ellipses.
Scalene ellipsoids are frequently called "triaxial ellipsoids",^{[1]} the implication being that all three axes need to be specified to define the shape.
Any planar cross section passing through the center of an ellipsoid forms an ellipse on its surface, with the possible special case of a circle if the three radii are the same (i.e., the ellipsoid is a sphere) or if the plane is parallel to two radii that are equal.
Contents
Parameterization
Using the common coordinates, where is a point's reduced, or parametric latitude and is its planetographic longitude, an ellipsoid can be parameterized by:



 (Note that this parameterization is not onetoone at the poles, where )

Volume
The volume of an ellipsoid is given by the formula
Note that this equation reduces to that of the volume of a sphere when all three elliptic radii are equal, and to that of an oblate or prolate spheroid when two of them are equal. The volumes of the maximum inscribed and minimum circumscribed boxes are respectively:
 and .
Surface area
The surface area of an ellipsoid is given by:
where
is the modular angle, or angular eccentricity; and , are the incomplete elliptic integrals of the first and second kind.
Unlike the surface area of a sphere, the surface area of a general ellipsoid cannot be expressed exactly by an elementary function.
An approximate formula is:
Where p ≈ 1.6075 yields a relative error of at most 1.061% (Knud Thomsen's formula ^{[2]}); a value of p = 8/5 = 1.6 is optimal for nearly spherical ellipsoids, with a relative error of at most 1.178% (David W. Cantrell's formula).
Exact formulae can be obtained for the case a = b (i.e., a circular equator):
 If oblate:
 If prolate:
In the "flat" limit of , the area is approximately
Mass properties
The mass of an ellipsoid of uniform density is:
where is the density.
The mass moments of inertia of an ellipsoid of uniform density are:
where , , and are the moments of inertia about the x, y, and z axes, respectively. Products of inertia are zero.
It can easily be shown that if a=b=c, then the moments of inertia reduce to those for a uniformdensity sphere.
Conversely, if the mass and principal inertias of an arbitrary rigid body are known, an equivalent ellipsoid of uniform density can be constructed, with the following characteristics:
Rotational equilibrium
Scalene ellipsoids and cuboids rotate stably along their major or minor axes, but not along their median axis. This can be seen experimentally by throwing an eraser with some spin. In addition, moment of inertia considerations mean that rotation along the major axis is more easily perturbed than rotation along the minor axis. One practical effect of this is that scalene astronomical bodies such as Haumea generally rotate along their minor axes (as does the Earth, which is merely oblate); in addition, because of tidal locking, scalene moons in synchronous orbit such as Mimas orbit with their major axis aligned radially to their planet.
A relaxed ellipsoid, that is, one in hydrostatic equilibrium, has an oblateness a − c directly proportional to its mean density and mean radius. Ellipsoids with a differentiated interior—that is, a denser core than mantle—have a lower oblateness than a homogeneous body. Over all, the ratio (b–c)/(a−c) is approximately 0.25, though this drops for rapidly rotating bodies.^{[3]}
Fluid properties
The ellipsoid is the most general shape for which it has been possible to calculate the creeping flow of fluid around the solid shape. The calculations include the force required to translate through a fluid and to rotate within it. Applications include determining the size and shape of large molecules, the sinking rate of small particles, and the swimming abilities of microorganisms.^{[4]}
Linear transformations
An invertible linear transformation applied to a sphere produces an ellipsoid, which can be brought into the above standard form by a suitable rotation, a consequence of the polar decomposition (also, see spectral theorem). If the linear transformation is represented by a symmetric 3by3 matrix, then the eigenvectors of the matrix are orthogonal (due to the spectral theorem) and represent the directions of the axes of the ellipsoid: the lengths of the semiaxes are given by the eigenvalues. The singular value decomposition and polar decomposition are matrix decompositions closely related to these geometric observations.
The intersection of an ellipsoid with a plane is either empty, a single point, or an ellipse (including a circle).
One can also define ellipsoids in higher dimensions, as the images of spheres under invertible linear transformations. The spectral theorem can again be used to obtain a standard equation akin to the one given above.
Egg shape
The shape of a chicken egg is approximately that of half each a prolate and a roughly spherical (potentially even minorly oblate) ellipsoid joined at the equator, sharing a principal axis of rotational symmetry.^{[5]} Although the term eggshaped usually implies a lack of reflection symmetry across the equatorial plane, it may also refer to true prolate ellipsoids. It can also be used to describe the 2D figure that, revolved around its major axis, produces one of the 3D surfaces described above. See also oval.
See also
 Paraboloid
 Hyperboloid
 Reference ellipsoid
 Geoid
 Ellipsoid method
 Superellipsoid
 Haumea, an ellipsoidshaped planetoid
 Homoeoid, a shell bounded by two concentric, similar ellipsoids
 Focaloid, a shell bounded by two concentric, confocal ellipsoids
 Elliptical distribution, in statistics
 Ellipse
References
 ^ OED, "triaxial": Helmert infers ... that the earth is a triaxial ellipsoid.
 ^ Thomsen's formulas by Gerard P. Michon (20040513).
 ^ "Shapes of the Saturnian Icy Satellites". http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2006/pdf/1639.pdf.
 ^ Dusenbery, David B. (2009). Living at Micro Scale, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. ISBN 9780674031166.
 ^ Egg Curves by Jürgen Köller.
 "Ellipsoid" by Jeff Bryant, Wolfram Demonstrations Project, 2007.
 Ellipsoid and Quadratic Surface, MathWorld.
External links
Categories: Geometric shapes
 Surfaces
 Quadrics
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.