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Ellipsoidal coordinates are a three-dimensional orthogonal coordinate system ${\displaystyle (\lambda ,\mu ,\nu )}$ that generalizes the two-dimensional elliptic coordinate system. Unlike most three-dimensional orthogonal coordinate systems that feature quadratic coordinate surfaces, the ellipsoidal coordinate system is not produced by rotating or projecting any two-dimensional orthogonal coordinate system.

## Basic formulae

The Cartesian coordinates ${\displaystyle (x,y,z)}$ can be produced from the ellipsoidal coordinates ${\displaystyle (\lambda ,\mu ,\nu )}$ by the equations

${\displaystyle x^{2}={\frac {\left(a^{2}+\lambda \right)\left(a^{2}+\mu \right)\left(a^{2}+\nu \right)}{\left(a^{2}-b^{2}\right)\left(a^{2}-c^{2}\right)}}}$
${\displaystyle y^{2}={\frac {\left(b^{2}+\lambda \right)\left(b^{2}+\mu \right)\left(b^{2}+\nu \right)}{\left(b^{2}-a^{2}\right)\left(b^{2}-c^{2}\right)}}}$
${\displaystyle z^{2}={\frac {\left(c^{2}+\lambda \right)\left(c^{2}+\mu \right)\left(c^{2}+\nu \right)}{\left(c^{2}-b^{2}\right)\left(c^{2}-a^{2}\right)}}}$

where the following limits apply to the coordinates

${\displaystyle -\lambda

Consequently, surfaces of constant ${\displaystyle \lambda }$ are ellipsoids

${\displaystyle {\frac {x^{2}}{a^{2}+\lambda }}+{\frac {y^{2}}{b^{2}+\lambda }}+{\frac {z^{2}}{c^{2}+\lambda }}=1,}$

whereas surfaces of constant ${\displaystyle \mu }$ are hyperboloids of one sheet

${\displaystyle {\frac {x^{2}}{a^{2}+\mu }}+{\frac {y^{2}}{b^{2}+\mu }}+{\frac {z^{2}}{c^{2}+\mu }}=1,}$

because the last term in the lhs is negative, and surfaces of constant ${\displaystyle \nu }$ are hyperboloids of two sheets

${\displaystyle {\frac {x^{2}}{a^{2}+\nu }}+{\frac {y^{2}}{b^{2}+\nu }}+{\frac {z^{2}}{c^{2}+\nu }}=1}$

because the last two terms in the lhs are negative.

## Scale factors and differential operators

For brevity in the equations below, we introduce a function

${\displaystyle S(\sigma )\ {\stackrel {\mathrm {def} }{=}}\ \left(a^{2}+\sigma \right)\left(b^{2}+\sigma \right)\left(c^{2}+\sigma \right)}$

where ${\displaystyle \sigma }$ can represent any of the three variables ${\displaystyle (\lambda ,\mu ,\nu )}$. Using this function, the scale factors can be written

${\displaystyle h_{\lambda }={\frac {1}{2}}{\sqrt {\frac {\left(\lambda -\mu \right)\left(\lambda -\nu \right)}{S(\lambda )}}}}$
${\displaystyle h_{\mu }={\frac {1}{2}}{\sqrt {\frac {\left(\mu -\lambda \right)\left(\mu -\nu \right)}{S(\mu )}}}}$
${\displaystyle h_{\nu }={\frac {1}{2}}{\sqrt {\frac {\left(\nu -\lambda \right)\left(\nu -\mu \right)}{S(\nu )}}}}$

Hence, the infinitesimal volume element equals

${\displaystyle dV={\frac {\left(\lambda -\mu \right)\left(\lambda -\nu \right)\left(\mu -\nu \right)}{8{\sqrt {-S(\lambda )S(\mu )S(\nu )}}}}\ d\lambda d\mu d\nu }$

and the Laplacian is defined by

${\displaystyle \nabla ^{2}\Phi ={\frac {4{\sqrt {S(\lambda )}}}{\left(\lambda -\mu \right)\left(\lambda -\nu \right)}}{\frac {\partial }{\partial \lambda }}\left[{\sqrt {S(\lambda )}}{\frac {\partial \Phi }{\partial \lambda }}\right]\ +\ }$
${\displaystyle {\frac {4{\sqrt {S(\mu )}}}{\left(\mu -\lambda \right)\left(\mu -\nu \right)}}{\frac {\partial }{\partial \mu }}\left[{\sqrt {S(\mu )}}{\frac {\partial \Phi }{\partial \mu }}\right]\ +\ {\frac {4{\sqrt {S(\nu )}}}{\left(\nu -\lambda \right)\left(\nu -\mu \right)}}{\frac {\partial }{\partial \nu }}\left[{\sqrt {S(\nu )}}{\frac {\partial \Phi }{\partial \nu }}\right]}$

Other differential operators such as ${\displaystyle \nabla \cdot \mathbf {F} }$ and ${\displaystyle \nabla \times \mathbf {F} }$ can be expressed in the coordinates ${\displaystyle (\lambda ,\mu ,\nu )}$ by substituting the scale factors into the general formulae found in orthogonal coordinates.

• Focaloid (shell given by two coordinate surfaces)

## Bibliography

• Morse PM, Feshbach H (1953). Methods of Theoretical Physics, Part I. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 663.
• Zwillinger D (1992). Handbook of Integration. Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett. p. 114. ISBN 0-86720-293-9.
• Sauer R, Szabó I (1967). Mathematische Hilfsmittel des Ingenieurs. New York: Springer Verlag. pp. 101–102. LCCN 67025285.
• Korn GA, Korn TM (1961). Mathematical Handbook for Scientists and Engineers. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 176. LCCN 59014456.
• Margenau H, Murphy GM (1956). The Mathematics of Physics and Chemistry. New York: D. van Nostrand. pp. 178–180. LCCN 55010911.
• Moon PH, Spencer DE (1988). "Ellipsoidal Coordinates (η, θ, λ)". Field Theory Handbook, Including Coordinate Systems, Differential Equations, and Their Solutions (corrected 2nd, 3rd print ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. pp. 40–44 (Table 1.10). ISBN 0-387-02732-7.

### Unusual convention

• Landau LD, Lifshitz EM, Pitaevskii LP (1984). Electrodynamics of Continuous Media (Volume 8 of the Course of Theoretical Physics) (2nd ed.). New York: Pergamon Press. pp. 19–29. ISBN 978-0-7506-2634-7. Uses (ξ, η, ζ) coordinates that have the units of distance squared.
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