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 semi-principal axes. These correspond to the semi-major axis and semi-minor axis of the appropriate ellipses.
Scalene ellipsoids are frequently called "triaxial ellipsoids", the implication being that all three axes need to be specified to define the shape.
Or, using spherical coordinates, where is the colatitude, or zenith, and is the longitude in 360°, or azimuth:
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 spherical equator):
In the "flat" limit of , the area is approximately
The mass moments of inertia of an ellipsoid of uniform density are:
where , , and are the moments of inertia about the x, y, and z axes, respectively. Products of inertia are zero.
It can easily be shown that if a=b=c, then the moments of inertia reduce to those for a uniform-density sphere.
Conversely, if the mass and principle inertias of an arbitrary rigid body are known, an equivalent ellipsoid of uniform density can be constructed, with the following characteristics:
Scalene ellipsoids and cuboids 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 inertia 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 locking, scalene moons in synchronous orbit such as those of Saturn orbit with their major axis aligned radially to their planet.
A relaxed ellipsoid, that is, one in hydrostatic equilibrium, has an oblateness a − c 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.
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.
The shape of a chicken egg is approximately that of half each a prolate and roughly spherical (potentially even minorly oblate) ellipsoid joined at the equator, sharing a principal axis of rotational symmetry. Although the term egg-shaped usually implies a lack of reflection symmetry 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 the 3D surface. See also oval (geometry).
Time-invariant sea-floor depths: using the ellipsoid as zero-reference surface; A GPS survey combined with acoustic soundings can determine highly accurate sea-floor depths. Using the ellipsoid as the zero-reference surface then allows navigators, while underway, to determine both keel and overhead obstruction clearance independent of the stage of the tide and the draft of the ship and freeboard.(DESIGN CHALLENGE)
Sep 01, 2005; For safe sailing, two most important requirements are to be able to determine clearances between the sea floor and the keel of...