An
ellipsoid is a closed type of
quadric surfaceIn mathematics, a quadric, or quadric surface, is any Ddimensional hypersurface in dimensional space defined as the locus of zeros of a quadratic polynomial...
that is a higher
dimensionIn physics and mathematics, the dimension of a space or object is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it. Thus a line has a dimension of one because only one coordinate is needed to specify a point on it...
al analogue of an
ellipseIn geometry, an ellipse is a plane curve that results from the intersection of a cone by a plane in a way that produces a closed curve. Circles are special cases of ellipses, obtained when the cutting plane is orthogonal to the cone's axis...
. The equation of a standard axisaligned ellipsoid body in an
xyz
Cartesian coordinate systemA Cartesian coordinate system specifies each point uniquely in a plane by a pair of numerical coordinates, which are the signed distances from the point to two fixed perpendicular directed lines, measured in the same unit of length...
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 numberIn mathematics, a real number is a value that represents a quantity along a continuum, such as 5 , 4/3 , 8.6 , √2 and π...
s 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 rootIn mathematics, a square root of a number x is a number r such that r2 = x, or, in other words, a number r whose square is x...
of the eigenvalues are the corresponding equatorial radii.
If all three radii are equal, the solid body is a
sphereA sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in threedimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...
; if two radii are equal, the ellipsoid is a
spheroidA spheroid, or ellipsoid of revolution is a quadric surface obtained by rotating an ellipse about one of its principal axes; in other words, an ellipsoid with two equal semidiameters....
:
 Sphere
A sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in threedimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...
;
 Oblate spheroid (diskshaped);
 Prolate
A prolate spheroid is a spheroid in which the polar axis is greater than the equatorial diameter. Prolate spheroids stand in contrast to oblate spheroids...
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 axisThe major axis of an ellipse is its longest diameter, a line that runs through the centre and both foci, its ends being at the widest points of the shape...
and
semiminor axisIn geometry, the semiminor axis is a line segment associated with most conic sections . One end of the segment is the center of the conic section, and it is at right angles with the semimajor axis...
of the appropriate
ellipseIn geometry, an ellipse is a plane curve that results from the intersection of a cone by a plane in a way that produces a closed curve. Circles are special cases of ellipses, obtained when the cutting plane is orthogonal to the cone's axis...
s.
Scalene ellipsoids are frequently called "triaxial ellipsoids", the implication being that all three axes need to be specified to define the shape.
Any planar
cross sectionIn geometry, a crosssection is the intersection of a figure in 2dimensional space with a line, or of a body in 3dimensional space with a plane, etc...
passing through the center of an ellipsoid forms an ellipse on its surface, with the possible special case of a
circleA circle is a simple shape of Euclidean geometry consisting of those points in a plane that are a given distance from a given point, the centre. The distance between any of the points and the centre is called the radius....
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.
Parameterization
Using the common coordinates, where
is a point's reduced, or
parametric latitude and
is its
planetographic longitudeLongitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the eastwest position of a point on the Earth's surface. It is an angular measurement, usually expressed in degrees, minutes and seconds, and denoted by the Greek letter lambda ....
, an ellipsoid can be parameterized by:







 (Note that this parameterization is not onetoone at the poles, where )
Volume
The volumeVolume is the quantity of threedimensional space enclosed by some closed boundary, for example, the space that a substance or shape occupies or contains....
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 prolateA prolate spheroid is a spheroid in which the polar axis is greater than the equatorial diameter. Prolate spheroids stand in contrast to oblate spheroids...
spheroidA spheroid, or ellipsoid of revolution is a quadric surface obtained by rotating an ellipse about one of its principal axes; in other words, an ellipsoid with two equal semidiameters....
when two of them are equal.
The volumes of the maximum inscribed and minimum circumscribed boxes are respectively: and .
Surface area
The surface areaArea is a quantity that expresses the extent of a twodimensional surface or shape in the plane. Area can be understood as the amount of material with a given thickness that would be necessary to fashion a model of the shape, or the amount of paint necessary to cover the surface with a single coat...
of an ellipsoid is given by:
where
is the modular angle, or angular eccentricityIn the study of ellipses and related geometry, various parameters in the distortion of a circle into an ellipse are identified and employed: Aspect ratio, flattening and eccentricity....
; and , are the incomplete elliptic integralIn integral calculus, elliptic integrals originally arose in connection with the problem of giving the arc length of an ellipse. They were first studied by Giulio Fagnano and Leonhard Euler...
s 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
); 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 massMass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...
of an ellipsoid of uniform density is:
where is the density.
The mass moments of inertiaIn classical mechanics, moment of inertia, also called mass moment of inertia, rotational inertia, polar moment of inertia of mass, or the angular mass, is a measure of an object's resistance to changes to its rotation. It is the inertia of a rotating body with respect to its rotation...
of an ellipsoid of uniform density are:
where , , and are the moments of inertia about the x, y, and z axes, respectively. Products of inertiaIn classical mechanics, moment of inertia, also called mass moment of inertia, rotational inertia, polar moment of inertia of mass, or the angular mass, is a measure of an object's resistance to changes to its rotation. It is the inertia of a rotating body with respect to its rotation...
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 cuboidIn geometry, a cuboid is a solid figure bounded by six faces, forming a convex polyhedron. There are two competing definitions of a cuboid in mathematical literature...
s 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 inertiaIn classical mechanics, moment of inertia, also called mass moment of inertia, rotational inertia, polar moment of inertia of mass, or the angular mass, is a measure of an object's resistance to changes to its rotation. It is the inertia of a rotating body with respect to its rotation...
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 generally rotate along their minor axes (as does the Earth, which is merely oblate); in addition, because of tidal lockingTidal locking occurs when the gravitational gradient makes one side of an astronomical body always face another; for example, the same side of the Earth's Moon always faces the Earth. A tidally locked body takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its partner...
, scalene moons in synchronous orbitA synchronous orbit is an orbit in which an orbiting body has a period equal to the average rotational period of the body being orbited , and in the same direction of rotation as that body.Properties:...
such as MimasMimas is a moon of Saturn which was discovered in 1789 by William Herschel. It is named after Mimas, a son of Gaia in Greek mythology, and is also designated Saturn I....
orbit with their major axis aligned radially to their planet.
A relaxed ellipsoid, that is, one in hydrostatic equilibriumHydrostatic equilibrium or hydrostatic balance is the condition in fluid mechanics where a volume of a fluid is at rest or at constant velocity. This occurs when compression due to gravity is balanced by a pressure gradient force...
, has an oblateness 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.
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.
Linear transformations
An invertible linear transformationIn mathematics, a linear map, linear mapping, linear transformation, or linear operator is a function between two vector spaces that preserves the operations of vector addition and scalar multiplication. As a result, it always maps straight lines to straight lines or 0...
applied to a sphere produces an ellipsoid, which can be brought into the above standard form by a suitable rotationA rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center of rotation. A threedimensional object rotates always around an imaginary line called a rotation axis. If the axis is within the body, and passes through its center of mass the body is said to rotate upon itself, or spin. A rotation...
, a consequence of the polar decomposition (also, see spectral theoremIn mathematics, particularly linear algebra and functional analysis, the spectral theorem is any of a number of results about linear operators or about matrices. In broad terms the spectral theorem provides conditions under which an operator or a matrix can be diagonalized...
). 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 decompositionIn linear algebra, the singular value decomposition is a factorization of a real or complex matrix, with many useful applications in signal processing and statistics....
and polar decomposition are matrix decompositions closely related to these geometric observations.
The intersectionIn mathematics, the intersection of two sets A and B is the set that contains all elements of A that also belong to B , but no other elements....
of an ellipsoid with a planeIn mathematics, a plane is a flat, twodimensional surface. A plane is the two dimensional analogue of a point , a line and a space...
is either emptyIn mathematics, and more specifically set theory, the empty set is the unique set having no elements; its size or cardinality is zero. Some axiomatic set theories assure that the empty set exists by including an axiom of empty set; in other theories, its existence can be deduced...
, 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 eggEggs are laid by females of many different species, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, and have probably been eaten by mankind for millennia. Bird and reptile eggs consist of a protective eggshell, albumen , and vitellus , contained within various thin membranes...
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 symmetryGenerally speaking, an object with rotational symmetry is an object that looks the same after a certain amount of rotation. An object may have more than one rotational symmetry; for instance, if reflections or turning it over are not counted, the triskelion appearing on the Isle of Man's flag has...
. Although the term eggshaped usually implies a lack of reflection symmetryReflection symmetry, reflectional symmetry, line symmetry, mirror symmetry, mirrorimage symmetry, or bilateral symmetry is symmetry with respect to reflection. That is, a figure which does not change upon undergoing a reflection has reflectional symmetry.In 2D there is a line of symmetry, in 3D a...
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 ovalAn oval is any curve resembling an egg or an ellipse, such as a Cassini oval. The term does not have a precise mathematical definition except in one area oval , but it may also refer to:* A sporting arena of oval shape** a cricket field...
.
See also
 Paraboloid
In mathematics, a paraboloid is a quadric surface of special kind. There are two kinds of paraboloids: elliptic and hyperbolic. The elliptic paraboloid is shaped like an oval cup and can have a maximum or minimum point....
 Hyperboloid
 Reference ellipsoid
In geodesy, a reference ellipsoid is a mathematicallydefined surface that approximates the geoid, the truer figure of the Earth, or other planetary body....
 Geoid
The geoid is that equipotential surface which would coincide exactly with the mean ocean surface of the Earth, if the oceans were in equilibrium, at rest , and extended through the continents . According to C.F...
 Ellipsoid method
In mathematical optimization, the ellipsoid method is an iterative method for minimizing convex functions. When specialized to solving feasible linear optimization problems with rational data, the ellipsoid method is an algorithm, which finds an optimal solution in a finite number of steps.The...
 Superellipsoid
A superellipse is a geometric figure defined in the Cartesian coordinate system as the set of all points withwhere n, a and b are positive numbers....
, an ellipsoidshaped planetoid
 Homoeoid
A homoeoid is a shell bounded by two concentric, similar ellipses or ellipsoids.When the thickness of the shell becomes negligible, it is called a thin homoeoid.Mathematical definition:If the outer shell is given by...
, a shell bounded by two concentric, similar ellipsoids
 Focaloid, a shell bounded by two concentric, confocal ellipsoids
 Elliptical distribution
In probability and statistics, an elliptical distribution is any member of a broad family of probability distributions that generalize the multivariate normal distribution and inherit some of its properties.Definition:...
, in statistics
 Ellipse
In geometry, an ellipse is a plane curve that results from the intersection of a cone by a plane in a way that produces a closed curve. Circles are special cases of ellipses, obtained when the cutting plane is orthogonal to the cone's axis...
External links