An ellipse (red) obtained as the intersection of a cone with an inclined plane.

An ellipse has a simple algebraic solution for its area, but only approximations for its perimeter (also known as circumference), for which integration is required to obtain an exact solution.

Ellipses are the closed type of conic section: a plane curve tracing the intersection of a cone with a plane (see figure). Ellipses have many similarities with the other two forms of conic sections, parabolas and hyperbolas, both of which are open and unbounded. An angled cross section of a cylinder is also an ellipse.

An ellipse may also be defined in terms of one focal point and a line outside the ellipse called the directrix: for all points on the ellipse, the ratio between the distance to the focus and the distance to the directrix is a constant. This constant ratio is the above-mentioned eccentricity:

Ellipses are common in physics, astronomy and engineering. For example, the orbit of each planet in the Solar System is approximately an ellipse with the Sun at one focus point (more precisely, the focus is the barycenter of the Sun–planet pair). The same is true for moons orbiting planets and all other systems of two astronomical bodies. The shapes of planets and stars are often well described by ellipsoids. A circle viewed from a side angle looks like an ellipse: that is, the ellipse is the image of a circle under parallel or perspective projection. The ellipse is also the simplest Lissajous figure formed when the horizontal and vertical motions are sinusoids with the same frequency: a similar effect leads to elliptical polarization of light in optics.

The name, ἔλλειψις (élleipsis, "omission"), was given by Apollonius of Perga in his Conics.

An ellipse can be defined geometrically as a set or locus of points in the Euclidean plane:

Using Dandelin spheres, one can prove that any section of a cone with a plane is an ellipse, assuming the plane does not contain the apex and has slope less than that of the lines on the cone.

The standard form of an ellipse in Cartesian coordinates assumes that the origin is the center of the ellipse, the x-axis is the major axis, and:

It follows from the equation that the ellipse is symmetric with respect to the coordinate axes and hence with respect to the origin.

To distinguish the degenerate cases from the non-degenerate case, let be the determinant

Then the ellipse is a non-degenerate real ellipse if and only if C∆ < 0. If C∆ > 0, we have an imaginary ellipse, and if = 0, we have a point ellipse.[7]: p.63 

Conversely, the canonical form parameters can be obtained from the general form coefficients by the equations:

The construction of points based on the parametric equation and the interpretation of parameter t, which is due to de la Hire

Rational representations of conic sections are commonly used in computer-aided design (see Bezier curve).

This description of the tangents of an ellipse is an essential tool for the determination of the orthoptic of an ellipse. The orthoptic article contains another proof, without differential calculus and trigonometric formulae.

point to two conjugate points and the tools developed above are applicable.

Whirls: nested, scaled and rotated ellipses. The spiral is not drawn: we see it as the locus of points where the ellipses are especially close to each other.

The converse is also true and can be used to define an ellipse (in a manner similar to the definition of a parabola):

Ellipse: the tangent bisects the supplementary angle of the angle between the lines to the foci.
Rays from one focus reflect off the ellipse to pass through the other focus.

Because the tangent is perpendicular to the normal, the statement is true for the tangent and the supplementary angle of the angle between the lines to the foci (see diagram), too.

The rays from one focus are reflected by the ellipse to the second focus. This property has optical and acoustic applications similar to the reflective property of a parabola (see whispering gallery).

Orthogonal diameters of a circle with a square of tangents, midpoints of parallel chords and an affine image, which is an ellipse with conjugate diameters, a parallelogram of tangents and midpoints of chords.

An affine transformation preserves parallelism and midpoints of line segments, so this property is true for any ellipse. (Note that the parallel chords and the diameter are no longer orthogonal.)

Conjugate diameters in an ellipse generalize orthogonal diameters in a circle.

This circle is called orthoptic or director circle of the ellipse (not to be confused with the circular directrix defined above).

Ellipses appear in descriptive geometry as images (parallel or central projection) of circles. There exist various tools to draw an ellipse. Computers provide the fastest and most accurate method for drawing an ellipse. However, technical tools (ellipsographs) to draw an ellipse without a computer exist. The principle of ellipsographs were known to Greek mathematicians such as Archimedes and Proklos.

If there is no ellipsograph available, one can draw an ellipse using an .

For any method described below, knowledge of the axes and the semi-axes is necessary (or equivalently: the foci and the semi-major axis). If this presumption is not fulfilled one has to know at least two conjugate diameters. With help of Rytz's construction the axes and semi-axes can be retrieved.

A similar method for drawing confocal ellipses with a closed string is due to the Irish bishop Charles Graves.

The two following methods rely on the parametric representation (see section parametric representation, above):

This method is the base for several ellipsographs (see section below).

Similar to the variation of the paper strip method 1 a variation of the paper strip method 2 can be established (see diagram) by cutting the part between the axes into halves.

Most ellipsograph drafting instruments are based on the second paperstrip method.

With help of a French curve one draws a curve, which has smooth contact to the osculating circles.

The following method to construct single points of an ellipse relies on the Steiner generation of a conic section:

Steiner generation can also be defined for hyperbolas and parabolas. It is sometimes called a parallelogram method because one can use other points rather than the vertices, which starts with a parallelogram instead of a rectangle.

Usually one measures inscribed angles by a degree or radian θ, but here the following measurement is more convenient:

At first the measure is available only for chords not parallel to the y-axis, but the final formula works for any chord.

The radius is the distance between any of the three points and the center.

Like a circle, such an ellipse is determined by three points not on a line.

For this family of ellipses, one introduces the following q-analog angle measure, which is not a function of the usual angle measure θ:[13][14]

At first the measure is available only for chords which are not parallel to the y-axis. But the final formula works for any chord. The proof follows from a straightforward calculation. For the direction of proof given that the points are on an ellipse, one can assume that the center of the ellipse is the origin.

Analogously to the circle case, the equation can be written more clearly using vectors:

Such a relation between points and lines generated by a conic is called pole-polar relation or polarity. The pole is the point; the polar the line.

By calculation one can confirm the following properties of the pole-polar relation of the ellipse:

except for the section on the area enclosed by a tilted ellipse, where the generalized form of Eq.(1) will be given.

More generally, the arc length of a portion of the circumference, as a function of the angle subtended (or x-coordinates of any two points on the upper half of the ellipse), is given by an incomplete elliptic integral. The upper half of an ellipse is parameterized by

Wave pattern of a little droplet dropped into mercury in one focus of the ellipse

If the water's surface is disturbed at one focus of an elliptical water tank, the circular waves of that disturbance, after reflecting off the walls, converge simultaneously to a single point: the second focus. This is a consequence of the total travel length being the same along any wall-bouncing path between the two foci.

Similarly, if a light source is placed at one focus of an elliptic mirror, all light rays on the plane of the ellipse are reflected to the second focus. Since no other smooth curve has such a property, it can be used as an alternative definition of an ellipse. (In the special case of a circle with a source at its center all light would be reflected back to the center.) If the ellipse is rotated along its major axis to produce an ellipsoidal mirror (specifically, a prolate spheroid), this property holds for all rays out of the source. Alternatively, a cylindrical mirror with elliptical cross-section can be used to focus light from a linear fluorescent lamp along a line of the paper; such mirrors are used in some document scanners.

Sound waves are reflected in a similar way, so in a large elliptical room a person standing at one focus can hear a person standing at the other focus remarkably well. The effect is even more evident under a vaulted roof shaped as a section of a prolate spheroid. Such a room is called a whisper chamber. The same effect can be demonstrated with two reflectors shaped like the end caps of such a spheroid, placed facing each other at the proper distance. Examples are the National Statuary Hall at the United States Capitol (where John Quincy Adams is said to have used this property for eavesdropping on political matters); the Mormon Tabernacle at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah; at an exhibit on sound at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago; in front of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign Foellinger Auditorium; and also at a side chamber of the Palace of Charles V, in the Alhambra.

In the 17th century, Johannes Kepler discovered that the orbits along which the planets travel around the Sun are ellipses with the Sun [approximately] at one focus, in his first law of planetary motion. Later, Isaac Newton explained this as a corollary of his law of universal gravitation.

More generally, in the gravitational two-body problem, if the two bodies are bound to each other (that is, the total energy is negative), their orbits are similar ellipses with the common barycenter being one of the foci of each ellipse. The other focus of either ellipse has no known physical significance. The orbit of either body in the reference frame of the other is also an ellipse, with the other body at the same focus.

Keplerian elliptical orbits are the result of any radially directed attraction force whose strength is inversely proportional to the square of the distance. Thus, in principle, the motion of two oppositely charged particles in empty space would also be an ellipse. (However, this conclusion ignores losses due to electromagnetic radiation and quantum effects, which become significant when the particles are moving at high speed.)

The general solution for a harmonic oscillator in two or more dimensions is also an ellipse. Such is the case, for instance, of a long pendulum that is free to move in two dimensions; of a mass attached to a fixed point by a perfectly elastic spring; or of any object that moves under influence of an attractive force that is directly proportional to its distance from a fixed attractor. Unlike Keplerian orbits, however, these "harmonic orbits" have the center of attraction at the geometric center of the ellipse, and have fairly simple equations of motion.

In electronics, the relative phase of two sinusoidal signals can be compared by feeding them to the vertical and horizontal inputs of an oscilloscope. If the Lissajous figure display is an ellipse, rather than a straight line, the two signals are out of phase.

Two non-circular gears with the same elliptical outline, each pivoting around one focus and positioned at the proper angle, turn smoothly while maintaining contact at all times. Alternatively, they can be connected by a link chain or timing belt, or in the case of a bicycle the main chainring may be elliptical, or an ovoid similar to an ellipse in form. Such elliptical gears may be used in mechanical equipment to produce variable angular speed or torque from a constant rotation of the driving axle, or in the case of a bicycle to allow a varying crank rotation speed with inversely varying mechanical advantage.

Elliptical bicycle gears make it easier for the chain to slide off the cog when changing gears.[22]

An example gear application would be a device that winds thread onto a conical bobbin on a spinning machine. The bobbin would need to wind faster when the thread is near the apex than when it is near the base.[23]

Drawing an ellipse as a graphics primitive is common in standard display libraries, such as the MacIntosh QuickDraw API, and Direct2D on Windows. Jack Bresenham at IBM is most famous for the invention of 2D drawing primitives, including line and circle drawing, using only fast integer operations such as addition and branch on carry bit. M. L. V. Pitteway extended Bresenham's algorithm for lines to conics in 1967.[28] Another efficient generalization to draw ellipses was invented in 1984 by Jerry Van Aken.[29]

In 1970 Danny Cohen presented at the "Computer Graphics 1970" conference in England a linear algorithm for drawing ellipses and circles. In 1971, L. B. Smith published similar algorithms for all conic sections and proved them to have good properties.[30] These algorithms need only a few multiplications and additions to calculate each vector.

It is beneficial to use a parametric formulation in computer graphics because the density of points is greatest where there is the most curvature. Thus, the change in slope between each successive point is small, reducing the apparent "jaggedness" of the approximation.

Composite Bézier curves may also be used to draw an ellipse to sufficient accuracy, since any ellipse may be construed as an affine transformation of a circle. The spline methods used to draw a circle may be used to draw an ellipse, since the constituent Bézier curves behave appropriately under such transformations.

It is sometimes useful to find the minimum bounding ellipse on a set of points. The ellipsoid method is quite useful for solving this problem.