In mathematics, an elliptic curve is a smooth, projective, algebraic curve of genus one, on which there is a specified point O. An elliptic curve is defined over a field K and describes points in K2, the Cartesian product of K with itself. If the field's characteristic is different from 2 and 3, then the curve can be described as a plane algebraic curve which, after a linear change of variables, consists of solutions (x,y) for:
If y2 = P(x), where P is any polynomial of degree three in x with no repeated roots, the solution set is a nonsingular plane curve of genus one, an elliptic curve. If P has degree four and is square-free this equation again describes a plane curve of genus one; however, it has no natural choice of identity element. More generally, any algebraic curve of genus one, for example the intersection of two quadric surfaces embedded in three-dimensional projective space, is called an elliptic curve, provided that it is equipped with a marked point to act as the identity.
Using the theory of elliptic functions, it can be shown that elliptic curves defined over the complex numbers correspond to embeddings of the torus into the complex projective plane. The torus is also an abelian group, and this correspondence is also a group isomorphism.
Elliptic curves are especially important in number theory, and constitute a major area of current research; for example, they were used in Andrew Wiles's proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. They also find applications in elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) and integer factorization.
Although the formal definition of an elliptic curve requires some background in algebraic geometry, it is possible to describe some features of elliptic curves over the real numbers using only introductory algebra and geometry.
In this context, an elliptic curve is a plane curve defined by an equation of the form
after a linear change of variables (a and b are real numbers). This type of equation is called a Weierstrass equation.
The definition of elliptic curve also requires that the curve is non-singular. Geometrically, this means that the graph has no cusps, self-intersections, or isolated points. Algebraically, this holds if and only if the discriminant
is not equal to zero. (Although the factor −16 is irrelevant to whether or not the curve is non-singular, this definition of the discriminant is useful in a more advanced study of elliptic curves.)
The (real) graph of a non-singular curve has two components if its discriminant is positive, and one component if it is negative. For example, in the graphs shown in figure to the right, the discriminant in the first case is 64, and in the second case is −368.
When working in the projective plane, we can define a group structure on any smooth cubic curve. In Weierstrass normal form, such a curve will have an additional point at infinity, O, at the homogeneous coordinates [0:1:0] which serves as the identity of the group.
Since the curve is symmetrical about the x-axis, given any point P, we can take −P to be the point opposite it. We take −O to be just O.
If P and Q are two points on the curve, then we can uniquely describe a third point, P + Q, in the following way. First, draw the line that intersects P and Q. This will generally intersect the cubic at a third point, R. We then take P + Q to be −R, the point opposite R.
This definition for addition works except in a few special cases related to the point at infinity and intersection multiplicity. The first is when one of the points is O. Here, we define P + O = P = O + P, making O the identity of the group. Next, if P and Q are opposites of each other, we define P + Q = O. Lastly, if P = Q we only have one point, thus we can't define the line between them. In this case, we use the tangent line to the curve at this point as our line. In most cases, the tangent will intersect a second point R and we can take its opposite. However, if P happens to be an inflection point (a point where the concavity of the curve changes), we take R to be P itself and P + P is simply the point opposite itself.
For a cubic curve not in Weierstrass normal form, we can still define a group structure by designating one of its nine inflection points as the identity O. In the projective plane, each line will intersect a cubic at three points when accounting for multiplicity. For a point P, −P is defined as the unique third point on the line passing through O and P. Then, for any P and Q, P + Q is defined as −R where R is the unique third point on the line containing P and Q.
Let K be a field over which the curve is defined (i.e., the coefficients of the defining equation or equations of the curve are in K) and denote the curve by E. Then the K-rational points of E are the points on E whose coordinates all lie in K, including the point at infinity. The set of K-rational points is denoted by E(K). It, too, forms a group, because properties of polynomial equations show that if P is in E(K), then −P is also in E(K), and if two of P, Q, and R are in E(K), then so is the third. Additionally, if K is a subfield of L, then E(K) is a subgroup of E(L).
The above group can be described algebraically as well as geometrically. Given the curve y2 = x3 + ax + b over the field K (whose characteristic we assume to be neither 2 nor 3), and points P = (xP, yP) and Q = (xQ, yQ) on the curve, assume first that xP ≠ xQ (first pane below). Let y = sx + d be the line that intersects P and Q, which has the following slope:
Since K is a field, s is well-defined. The line equation and the curve equation have an identical y in the points xP, xQ, and xR.
We equate the coefficient for x2 and solve for xR. yR follows from the line equation. This defines R = (xR, yR) = −(P + Q) with
If xP = xQ, then there are two options: if yP = −yQ (third and fourth panes below), including the case where yP = yQ = 0 (fourth pane), then the sum is defined as 0; thus, the inverse of each point on the curve is found by reflecting it across the x-axis. If yP = yQ ≠ 0, then Q = P and R = (xR, yR) = −(P + P) = −2P = −2Q (second pane below with P shown for R) is given by
The formulation of elliptic curves as the embedding of a torus in the complex projective plane follows naturally from a curious property of Weierstrass's elliptic functions. These functions and their first derivative are related by the formula
This map is a group isomorphism of the torus (considered with its natural group structure) with the chord-and-tangent group law on the cubic curve which is the image of this map. It is also an isomorphism of Riemann surfaces from the torus to the cubic curve, so topologically, an elliptic curve is a torus. If the lattice Λ is related by multiplication by a non-zero complex number c to a lattice cΛ, then the corresponding curves are isomorphic. Isomorphism classes of elliptic curves are specified by the j-invariant.
The isomorphism classes can be understood in a simpler way as well. The constants g2 and g3, called the modular invariants, are uniquely determined by the lattice, that is, by the structure of the torus. However, all real polynomials factorize completely into linear factors over the complex numbers, since the field of complex numbers is the algebraic closure of the reals. So, the elliptic curve may be written as
This also allows an easy understanding of the torsion points on an elliptic curve: if the lattice Λ is spanned by the fundamental periods ω1 and ω2, then the n-torsion points are the (equivalence classes of) points of the form
Over the complex numbers, every elliptic curve has nine inflection points. Every line through two of these points also passes through a third inflection point; the nine points and 12 lines formed in this way form a realization of the Hesse configuration.
A curve E defined over the field of rational numbers is also defined over the field of real numbers. Therefore, the law of addition (of points with real coordinates) by the tangent and secant method can be applied to E. The explicit formulae show that the sum of two points P and Q with rational coordinates has again rational coordinates, since the line joining P and Q has rational coefficients. This way, one shows that the set of rational points of E forms a subgroup of the group of real points of E. As this group, it is an abelian group, that is, P + Q = Q + P.
The most important result is that all points can be constructed by the method of tangents and secants starting with a finite number of points. More precisely the Mordell–Weil theorem states that the group E(Q) is a finitely generated (abelian) group. By the it is therefore a finite direct sum of copies of Z and finite cyclic groups.
The proof of that theorem rests on two ingredients: first, one shows that for any integer m > 1, the quotient group E(Q)/mE(Q) is finite (weak Mordell–Weil theorem). Second, introducing a height function h on the rational points E(Q) defined by h(P0) = 0 and h(P) = log max(|p|, |q|) if P (unequal to the point at infinity P0) has as abscissa the rational number x = p/q (with coprime p and q). This height function h has the property that h(mP) grows roughly like the square of m. Moreover, only finitely many rational points with height smaller than any constant exist on E.
The proof of the theorem is thus a variant of the method of infinite descent and relies on the repeated application of Euclidean divisions on E: let P ∈ E(Q) be a rational point on the curve, writing P as the sum 2P1 + Q1 where Q1 is a fixed representant of P in E(Q)/2E(Q), the height of P1 is about 1/4 of the one of P (more generally, replacing 2 by any m > 1, and 1/4 by 1/m2). Redoing the same with P1, that is to say P1 = 2P2 + Q2, then P2 = 2P3 + Q3, etc. finally expresses P as an integral linear combination of points Qi and of points whose height is bounded by a fixed constant chosen in advance: by the weak Mordell–Weil theorem and the second property of the height function P is thus expressed as an integral linear combination of a finite number of fixed points.
So far, the theorem is not effective since there is no known general procedure for determining representatives of E(Q)/mE(Q).
The rank of E(Q), that is the number of copies of Z in E(Q) or, equivalently, the number of independent points of infinite order, is called the rank of E. The Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture is concerned with determining the rank. One conjectures that it can be arbitrarily large, even if only examples with relatively small rank are known. The elliptic curve with biggest exactly known rank is961710182053183034546222979258806817743270682028964434238957830989898438151121499931
It has rank 20, found by Noam Elkies and Zev Klagsbrun in 2020. Curves of rank higher than 20 were known since 1994, with lower bounds on their ranks ranging from at-least-21 to at-least-28, but their exact ranks are not currently known and in particular it is not proven which of them have higher rank than the others or which is the true "current champion".
As for the groups constituting the torsion subgroup of E(Q), the following is known: the torsion subgroup of E(Q) is one of the 15 following groups (a theorem due to Barry Mazur): Z/NZ for N = 1, 2, ..., 10, or 12, or Z/2Z × Z/2NZ with N = 1, 2, 3, 4. Examples for every case are known. Moreover, elliptic curves whose Mordell–Weil groups over Q have the same torsion groups belong to a parametrized family.
The Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture (BSD) is one of the Millennium problems of the Clay Mathematics Institute. The conjecture relies on analytic and arithmetic objects defined by the elliptic curve in question.
At the analytic side, an important ingredient is a function of a complex variable, L, the Hasse–Weil zeta function of E over Q. This function is a variant of the Riemann zeta function and Dirichlet L-functions. It is defined as an Euler product, with one factor for every prime number p.
The zeta function of an elliptic curve over a finite field Fp is, in some sense, a generating function assembling the information of the number of points of E with values in the finite field extensions Fpn of Fp. It is given by
The Hasse–Weil zeta function of E over Q is then defined by collecting this information together, for all primes p. It is defined by
where ε(p) = 1 if E has good reduction at p and 0 otherwise (in which case ap is defined differently from the method above: see Silverman (1986) below).
This product converges for Re(s) > 3/2 only. Hasse's conjecture affirms that the L-function admits an analytic continuation to the whole complex plane and satisfies a functional equation relating, for any s, L(E, s) to L(E, 2 − s). In 1999 this was shown to be a consequence of the proof of the Shimura–Taniyama–Weil conjecture, which asserts that every elliptic curve over Q is a modular curve, which implies that its L-function is the L-function of a modular form whose analytic continuation is known. One can therefore speak about the values of L(E, s) at any complex number s.
The Birch–Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture relates the arithmetic of the curve to the behavior of its L-function at s = 1. It affirms that the vanishing order of the L-function at s = 1 equals the rank of E and predicts the leading term of the Laurent series of L(E, s) at that point in terms of several quantities attached to the elliptic curve.
Much like the Riemann hypothesis, the truth of the BSD conjecture would have multiple consequences, including the following two:
The modularity theorem, once known as the Taniyama–Shimura–Weil conjecture, states that every elliptic curve E over Q is a modular curve, that is to say, its Hasse–Weil zeta function is the L-function of a modular form of weight 2 and level N, where N is the conductor of E (an integer divisible by the same prime numbers as the discriminant of E, Δ(E)). In other words, if one writes the L-function for Re(s) > 3/2 in the form
defines a parabolic modular newform of weight 2 and level N. For prime numbers ℓ not dividing N, the coefficient a(ℓ) is equal to ℓ minus the number of solutions of the minimal equation of the curve modulo ℓ.
For prime numbers ℓ not equal to 37, one can verify the property about the coefficients. Thus, for ℓ = 3, there are 6 solutions of the equation modulo 3: (0, 0), (0, 1), (2, 0), (1, 0), (1, 1), (2, 1); thus a(3) = 3 − 6 = −3.
There are several formulations of the conjecture. Showing that they are equivalent was a main challenge of number theory in the second half of the 20th century. The modularity of an elliptic curve E of conductor N can be expressed also by saying that there is a non-constant rational map defined over Q, from the modular curve X0(N) to E. In particular, the points of E can be parametrized by modular functions.
and likewise for y(z), for all integers a, b, c, d with ad − bc = 1 and 37|c.
Another formulation depends on the comparison of Galois representations attached on the one hand to elliptic curves, and on the other hand to modular forms. The latter formulation has been used in the proof of the conjecture. Dealing with the level of the forms (and the connection to the conductor of the curve) is particularly delicate.
The most spectacular application of the conjecture is the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem (FLT). Suppose that for a prime p ≥ 5, the Fermat equation
cannot be modular. Thus, the proof of the Taniyama–Shimura–Weil conjecture for this family of elliptic curves (called Hellegouarch–Frey curves) implies FLT. The proof of the link between these two statements, based on an idea of Gerhard Frey (1985), is difficult and technical. It was established by Kenneth Ribet in 1987.
This section is concerned with points P = (x, y) of E such that x is an integer. The following theorem is due to C. L. Siegel: the set of points P = (x, y) of E(Q) such that x is an integer is finite. This theorem can be generalized to points whose x coordinate has a denominator divisible only by a fixed finite set of prime numbers.
The theorem can be formulated effectively. For example, if the Weierstrass equation of E has integer coefficients bounded by a constant H, the coordinates (x, y) of a point of E with both x and y integer satisfy:
For example, the equation y2 = x3 + 17 has eight integral solutions with y > 0 :
Many of the preceding results remain valid when the field of definition of E is a number field K, that is to say, a finite field extension of Q. In particular, the group E(K) of K-rational points of an elliptic curve E defined over K is finitely generated, which generalizes the Mordell–Weil theorem above. A theorem due to Loïc Merel shows that for a given integer d, there are (up to isomorphism) only finitely many groups that can occur as the torsion groups of E(K) for an elliptic curve defined over a number field K of degree d. More precisely, there is a number B(d) such that for any elliptic curve E defined over a number field K of degree d, any torsion point of E(K) is of order less than B(d). The theorem is effective: for d > 1, if a torsion point is of order p, with p prime, then
As for the integral points, Siegel's theorem generalizes to the following: Let E be an elliptic curve defined over a number field K, x and y the Weierstrass coordinates. Then there are only finitely many points of E(K) whose x-coordinate is in the ring of integers OK.
The properties of the Hasse–Weil zeta function and the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture can also be extended to this more general situation.
Elliptic curves can be defined over any field K; the formal definition of an elliptic curve is a non-singular projective algebraic curve over K with genus 1 and endowed with a distinguished point defined over K.
If the characteristic of K is neither 2 nor 3, then every elliptic curve over K can be written in the form
after a linear change of variables. Here p and q are elements of K such that the right hand side polynomial x3 − px − q does not have any double roots. If the characteristic is 2 or 3, then more terms need to be kept: in characteristic 3, the most general equation is of the form
for arbitrary constants b2, b4, b6 such that the polynomial on the right-hand side has distinct roots (the notation is chosen for historical reasons). In characteristic 2, even this much is not possible, and the most general equation is
provided that the variety it defines is non-singular. If characteristic were not an obstruction, each equation would reduce to the previous ones by a suitable linear change of variables.
One typically takes the curve to be the set of all points (x,y) which satisfy the above equation and such that both x and y are elements of the algebraic closure of K. Points of the curve whose coordinates both belong to K are called K-rational points.
Let E and D be elliptic curves over a field k. An isogeny between E and D is a finite morphism f : E → D of varieties that preserves basepoints (in other words, maps the given point on E to that on D).
The two curves are called isogenous if there is an isogeny between them. This is an equivalence relation, symmetry being due to the existence of the dual isogeny. Every isogeny is an algebraic homomorphism and thus induces homomorphisms of the groups of the elliptic curves for k-valued points.
Let K = Fq be the finite field with q elements and E an elliptic curve defined over K. While the precise number of rational points of an elliptic curve E over K is in general rather difficult to compute, Hasse's theorem on elliptic curves gives us, including the point at infinity, the following estimate:
In other words, the number of points of the curve grows roughly as the number of elements in the field. This fact can be understood and proven with the help of some general theory; see local zeta function, Étale cohomology.
over F71 has 72 points (71 affine points including (0,0) and one point at infinity) over this field, whose group structure is given by Z/2Z × Z/36Z. The number of points on a specific curve can be computed with Schoof's algorithm.
Studying the curve over the field extensions of Fq is facilitated by the introduction of the local zeta function of E over Fq, defined by a generating series (also see above)
where the field Kn is the (unique up to isomorphism) extension of K = Fq of degree n (that is, Fqn). The zeta function is a rational function in T. There is an integer a such that
Elliptic curves over finite fields are notably applied in cryptography and for the factorization of large integers. These algorithms often make use of the group structure on the points of E. Algorithms that are applicable to general groups, for example the group of invertible elements in finite fields, F*q, can thus be applied to the group of points on an elliptic curve. For example, the discrete logarithm is such an algorithm. The interest in this is that choosing an elliptic curve allows for more flexibility than choosing q (and thus the group of units in Fq). Also, the group structure of elliptic curves is generally more complicated.
Elliptic curves over finite fields are used in some cryptographic applications as well as for integer factorization. Typically, the general idea in these applications is that a known algorithm which makes use of certain finite groups is rewritten to use the groups of rational points of elliptic curves. For more see also:
Serge Lang, in the introduction to the book cited below, stated that "It is possible to write endlessly on elliptic curves. (This is not a threat.)" The following short list is thus at best a guide to the vast expository literature available on the theoretical, algorithmic, and cryptographic aspects of elliptic curves.