ellipse, closed plane curve consisting of all points for which the sum of the distances between a point on the curve and two fixed points (foci) is the same. It is the conic section formed by a plane cutting all the elements of the cone in the same nappe. The center of an ellipse is the point halfway between its foci. The major axis is the chord that passes through the foci. The minor axis is the chord that passes through the center perpendicular to the major axis. The latus rectum is the chord through either focus perpendicular to the major axis. The vertices are the two points of intersection of the major axis with the curve. The eccentricity of an ellipse, a ratio of two lengths, is a measure of its flatness; it is the distance from the center to either focus divided by the distance from the center to either vertex. The circle may be considered an ellipse of eccentricity zero, i.e., one in which the center and the two foci all coincide.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.