Prolate spheroidal coordinates

Prolate spheroidal coordinates

Prolate spheroidal coordinates are a three-dimensional orthogonal coordinate system that results from rotating the two-dimensional elliptic coordinate system about the focal axis of the ellipse, i.e., the axis on which the foci are located. Rotation about the other axis produces the oblate spheroidal coordinates.

This coordinate system can be used to solve various partial differential equations in which the boundary conditions match its symmetry and shape, such as solving for a field produced by two centers, which are taken as the foci on the "z"-axis. One example is solving for the wavefunction of an electron moving in the electromagnetic field of two positively charged nuclei, as in the hydrogen ion, H2+. Another example is solving for the electric field generated by two small electrode tips. Other limiting cases include fields generated by a line segment (μ=0) or a line with a missing segment (ν=0).


The most common definition of prolate spheroidal coordinates (mu, u, phi) is

:x = a sinh mu sin u cos phi

:y = a sinh mu sin u sin phi

:z = a cosh mu cos u

where mu is a nonnegative real number and u in [0, pi] . The azimuthal angle phi belongs to the interval [0, 2pi).

The trigonometric identity

:frac{z^{2{a^{2} cosh^{2} mu} + frac{x^{2} + y^{2{a^{2} sinh^{2} mu} = cos^{2} u + sin^{2} u = 1

shows that surfaces of constant mu form prolate spheroids, since they are ellipses rotated about the axis joining their foci. Similarly, the hyperbolic trigonometric identity

:frac{z^{2{a^{2} cos^{2} u} - frac{x^{2} + y^{2{a^{2} sin^{2} u} = cosh^{2} mu - sinh^{2} mu = 1

shows that surfaces of constant u form
hyperboloids of revolution.

cale factors

The scale factors for the elliptic coordinates (mu, u) are equal

:h_{mu} = h_{ u} = asqrt{sinh^{2}mu + sin^{2} u}

whereas the azimuthal scale factor equals

:h_{phi} = a sinhmu sin u

Consequently, an infinitesimal volume element equals

:dV = a^{3} sinhmu sin u left( sinh^{2}mu + sin^{2} u ight) dmu d u dphi

and the Laplacian can be written

: abla^{2} Phi = frac{1}{a^{2} left( sinh^{2}mu + sin^{2} u ight)} left [frac{partial^{2} Phi}{partial mu^{2 + frac{partial^{2} Phi}{partial u^{2 + coth mu frac{partial Phi}{partial mu} + cot u frac{partial Phi}{partial u} ight] + frac{1}{a^{2} sinh^{2}mu sin^{2} u}frac{partial^{2} Phi}{partial phi^{2

Other differential operators such as abla cdot mathbf{F} and abla imes mathbf{F} can be expressed in the coordinates (mu, u, phi) by substituting the scale factors into the general formulae found in orthogonal coordinates.

Alternative definition

An alternative and geometrically intuitive set of prolate spheroidal coordinates (sigma, au, phi) are sometimes used, where sigma = cosh mu and au = cos u. Hence, the curves of constant sigma are prolate spheroids, whereas the curves of constant au are hyperboloids of revolution. The coordinate au belongs to the interval [-1, 1] , whereas the sigma coordinate must be greater than or equal to one. The coordinates sigma and au have a simple relation to the distances to the foci F_{1} and F_{2}. For any point in the plane, the "sum" d_{1}+d_{2} of its distances to the foci equals 2asigma, whereas their "difference" d_{1}-d_{2} equals 2a au. Thus, the distance to F_{1} is a(sigma+ au), whereas the distance to F_{2} is a(sigma- au). (Recall that F_{1} and F_{2} are located at z=-a and z=+a, respectively.)

Unlike the analogous oblate spheroidal coordinates, the prolate spheroid coordinates (σ, τ, φ) are "not" degenerate; in other words, there is a unique, reversible correspondence (in technical language, a 1-to-1 mapping) between them and the Cartesian coordinates

:x = a sqrt{left( sigma^{2} - 1 ight) left(1 - au^{2} ight)} cos phi

:y = a sqrt{left( sigma^{2} - 1 ight) left(1 - au^{2} ight)} sin phi

:z = a sigma au

Alternative scale factors

The scale factors for the alternative elliptic coordinates (sigma, au, phi) are

:h_{sigma} = asqrt{frac{sigma^{2} - au^{2{sigma^{2} - 1

:h_{ au} = asqrt{frac{sigma^{2} - au^{2{1 - au^{2}

while the azimuthal scale factor is now

:h_{phi} = a sqrt{left( sigma^{2} - 1 ight) left( 1 - au^{2} ight)}

Hence, the infinitesimal volume element becomes

:dV = a^{3} left( sigma^{2} - au^{2} ight) dsigma d au dphi

and the Laplacian equals

: abla^{2} Phi = frac{1}{a^{2} left( sigma^{2} - au^{2} ight)}left{frac{partial}{partial sigma} left [ left( sigma^{2} - 1 ight) frac{partial Phi}{partial sigma} ight] + frac{partial}{partial au} left [ left( 1 - au^{2} ight) frac{partial Phi}{partial au} ight] ight}+ frac{1}{a^{2} left( sigma^{2} - 1 ight) left( 1 - au^{2} ight)}frac{partial^{2} Phi}{partial phi^{2

Other differential operators such as abla cdot mathbf{F} and abla imes mathbf{F} can be expressed in the coordinates (sigma, au) by substituting the scale factors into the general formulae found in orthogonal coordinates.

As is the case with spherical coordinates, Laplaces equation may be solved by the method of separation of variables to yield solutions in the form of prolate spheroidal harmonics, which are convenient to use when boundary conditions are defined on a surface with a constant prolate spheroidal coordinate (See Smythe, 1968).

See also



No angles convention

* Uses ξ1 = a cosh μ, ξ2 = sin ν, and ξ3 = cos φ.

* Same as Morse & Feshbach (1953), substituting "u""k" for ξ"k".


* | pages = p. 97 Uses coordinates ξ = cosh μ, η = sin ν, and φ.

Angle convention

* | pages = p. 177 Korn and Korn use the (μ, ν, φ) coordinates, but also introduce the degenerate (σ, τ, φ) coordinates.

*| pages = pp. 180–182 Similar to Korn and Korn (1961), but uses colatitude θ = 90° - ν instead of latitude ν.

* Moon and Spencer use the colatitude convention θ = 90° - ν, and re-name φ as ψ.

Unusual convention

* Treats the prolate spheroidal coordinates as a limiting case of the general ellipsoidal coordinates. Uses (ξ, η, ζ) coordinates that have the units of distance squared.

External links

* [ MathWorld description of prolate spheroidal coordinates]

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