NZ Level 8 (NZC) Level 3 (NCEA) [In development]
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Finding the Equation of Ellipse
Lesson

We now examine the method of finding the equation of an ellipse given certain identifying information.

Central Ellipses

The standard form for a central ellipse depends on the orientation of the ellipse.  The equations and attributes can be summarized in the table below, given the following:

  • The parameter $a$a is the length of the semi-major axis.
  • The parameter $b$b is the length of the semi-minor axis.
  • The parameter $c$c is the distance from the center to each focus.
Orientation Horizontal Major Axis Vertical Major Axis
Standard form $\frac{x^2}{a^2}+\frac{y^2}{b^2}=1$x2a2+y2b2=1 $\frac{x^2}{b^2}+\frac{y^2}{a^2}=1$x2b2+y2a2=1
Center $\left(0,0\right)$(0,0) $\left(0,0\right)$(0,0)
Foci $\left(c,0\right)$(c,0) and $\left(-c,0\right)$(c,0) $\left(0,c\right)$(0,c) and $\left(0,-c\right)$(0,c)
Vertices $\left(a,0\right)$(a,0) and $\left(-a,0\right)$(a,0) $\left(0,a\right)$(0,a) and $\left(0,-a\right)$(0,a)
Covertices $\left(0,b\right)$(0,b) and $\left(0,-b\right)$(0,b) $\left(b,0\right)$(b,0) and $\left(-b,0\right)$(b,0)
Major axis $y=0$y=0 $x=0$x=0
Minor axis $x=0$x=0 $y=0$y=0

Notice that by this definition, it is always true that $a>b$a>b. It is also true that the parameters $a$a, $b$b, and $c$c have the relationship $c^2=a^2-b^2$c2=a2b2.

Translated Ellipses

If an ellipse is translated horizontally or vertically from the center, the parameter $a$a, $b$b, and $c$c still have the same meaning.  However, we must take into account that the center of the ellipse has moved.  Given the following definitions for $h$h and $k$k,

  • The parameter $h$h denotes the translation in the horizontal direction from $0,0$0,0
  • The parameter $k$k denomes the translation in the vertical direction from $0,0$0,0

The table below summarizes the standard form of an ellipse in both orientations.

Orientation Horizontal Major Axis Vertical Major Axis
Standard form $\frac{\left(x-h\right)^2}{a^2}+\frac{\left(y-k\right)^2}{b^2}=1$(xh)2a2+(yk)2b2=1 $\frac{\left(x-h\right)^2}{b^2}+\frac{\left(y-k\right)^2}{a^2}=1$(xh)2b2+(yk)2a2=1
Center $\left(h,k\right)$(h,k) $\left(h,k\right)$(h,k)
Foci $\left(h+c,k\right)$(h+c,k) and $\left(h-c,k\right)$(hc,k) $\left(h,k+c\right)$(h,k+c) and $\left(h,k-c\right)$(h,kc)
Vertices $\left(h+a,k\right)$(h+a,k) and $\left(k-a,k\right)$(ka,k) $\left(h,k+a\right)$(h,k+a) and $\left(0,-a\right)$(0,a)
Covertices $\left(h,k+b\right)$(h,k+b) and $\left(h,k-b\right)$(h,kb) $\left(h+b,k\right)$(h+b,k) and $\left(h-b,k\right)$(hb,k)
Major axis $y=k$y=k $x=h$x=h
Minor axis $x=h$x=h $y=k$y=k

Essentially, the information is the same as the central ellipse.  But the values of $h$h and $k$k are added to the $x$x and $y$y values (respectively) for each characteristic.

 

Worked Examples

question 1

Find the equation, in standard form, of the ellipse with $x$x-intercepts $\left(\pm3,0\right)$(±3,0) and $y$y-intercepts $\left(0,\pm7\right)$(0,±7).

question 2

Find the equation, in standard form, of the ellipse with foci $\left(\pm6,0\right)$(±6,0) and a minor axis of length $6$6.

question 3

Find the equation, in standard form, of the ellipse with center $\left(1,5\right)$(1,5), a horizontal major axis of length $16$16 and a minor axis of length $10$10.

Outcomes

M8-1

Apply the geometry of conic sections

91573

Apply the geometry of conic sections in solving problems

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