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Where does this equation for an ellipse come from?

  1. Oct 25, 2015 #1
    I'm reading the professors notes and he gives this general equation for the ellipse. The professor has already been mistaken in some of his notes so I wanted you to help me validate what he's saying, as I can't prove the equation.

    Suppose we have the vector ##\mathbf{r}=\big(x_o \cos(-\omega t + \phi_x), y_o \cos(-\omega t +\phi_y)\big)##

    Then, he says that the general equation for the path is:


    where ##\delta=\phi_y-\phi_x##.

    So my question was where does this equation come from? How can I derive it? I know these type of equations are tedious to prove so it's okay if you give me a rough outline, or point me towards a source which does go through it. Or at least tell me you attest to its validity. I can't find the equation elsewhere and I haven't been able to prove it myself.

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 25, 2015 #2


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    If ##\phi_x-\phi_y## is not an odd multiple of ##\frac{\pi}{2}## the ##xy## term will be nonzero, so the ellipse axes will be rotated relative to the x and y axes.

    Start with an x-y coordinate system and then consider a second coordinate system X-Y whose origin is at (u,v) in the x,-y coordinates and whose X and Y axes are angle ##\theta## to the anticlockwise direction from the x and y axes.

    Consider an ellipse centred at (u,v) with semi-major and semi-minor axes of a and b aligned with the X and Y axes. The equation of that ellipse is ##\frac{X^2}{a^2}+\frac{Y^2}{b^2}=1##.

    With a bit of messy trigonometry you should be able to convert that into an equation in x-y coordinates. Then match terms to the given equation and work out what ##\phi_x,\phi_y,x_0,y_0## represent in the diagram.
  4. Oct 25, 2015 #3
    Nice, i'll try it in a while. How would time dependence vanish though?
  5. Oct 25, 2015 #4
    Oh I think I see it... The arguments would be subtracted, right?
  6. Oct 25, 2015 #5


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    The equation without time in it is an equation of a 'path', which differs from a 'curve' in that it is not parameterised. It simply specifies the set of points that are traced out by a particle following the curve. The equation with t in it is a parametrised equation, which shows how the path is traversed over time. A simple analog is the circle, whose parametric equation is ##x=r\cos t,\ y=\sin t## and the equation for the path traced out is ##x^2+y^2=1##.

    I expect (but do not guarantee :wink:) that a parametric equation matching the given one will suggest itself once an equation for the path has been obtained.
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