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This article is about figure-eight shaped curves in algebraic geometry. For other uses, see Lemniscate (disambiguation).
The lemniscate of Bernoulli and its two foci

In algebraic geometry, a lemniscate is any of several figure-eight or -shaped curves.[1][2] The word comes from the Latin lēmniscātus meaning "decorated with ribbons", which in turn may come from the ancient Greek island of Lemnos where ribbons were worn as decorations,[2] or alternatively may refer to the wool from which the ribbons were made.[1]

History and examples[edit]

Lemniscate of Booth[edit]

Although the name "lemniscate" dates to the late 17th century, the consideration of curves with a figure eight shape can be traced back to Proclus, a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher and mathematician who lived in the 5th century AD. Proclus considered the cross-sections of a torus by a plane parallel to the axis of the torus. As he observed, for most such sections the cross section consists of either one or two ovals; however, when the plane is tangent to the inner surface of the torus, the cross-section takes on a figure-eight shape, which Proclus called a horse fetter (a device for holding two feet of a horse together). The Greek phrase for a horse fetter became the word hippopede, the name for this figure-eight shaped curve, which is also called the lemniscate of Booth. It may be defined algebraically as the zero set of the quartic polynomial (x2 + y2)2cx2dy2 when the parameter d is negative. For positive values of d one instead obtains an oval-shaped curve, the oval of Booth. Its name comes from 19th-century mathematician James Booth, who studied both the lemniscate and the oval.[1]

Lemniscate of Bernoulli[edit]

In 1680, Cassini studied a family of curves, now called the Cassini oval, defined as follows: the locus of all points, the product of whose distances from two fixed points, the curves' foci, is a constant. Under very particular circumstances (when the half-distance between the points is equal to the square root of the constant) this gives rise to a lemniscate.

In 1694, Johann Bernoulli studied the lemniscate case of the Cassini oval, now known as the lemniscate of Bernoulli (shown above), in connection with a problem of "isochrones" that had been posed earlier by Leibniz. It is analytically described as the zero set of the polynomial (x2 + y2)2 − 2a2(x2y2). Bernoulli's brother Jacob Bernoulli also studied the same curve in the same year, and gave it its name, the lemniscate.[3] It may also be defined geometrically as the locus of points whose product of distances from two foci equals the square of half the interfocal distance.[4] It is a special case of the hippopede, with d = −c, and may be formed as a cross-section of a torus whose inner hole and circular cross-sections have the same diameter as each other.[1] The lemniscatic elliptic functions are analogues of trigonometric functions for the lemniscate of Bernoulli, and the lemniscate constants arise in evaluating the arc length of this lemniscate.

Lemniscate of Gerono[edit]

Another lemniscate, the lemniscate of Gerono or lemniscate of Huygens, is the zero set of the quartic polynomial y2x2(a2x2).[5][6] Viviani's curve, a three-dimensional curve formed by intersecting a sphere with a cylinder, also has a figure eight shape, and has the lemniscate of Gerono as its planar projection.[7]


Other figure-eight shaped algebraic curves include

  • The Devil's curve, a curve defined by the quartic equation y2(y2a2) = x2(x2b2) in which one connected component has a figure-eight shape,[8]
  • Watt's curve, a figure-eight shaped curve formed by a mechanical linkage. Watt's curve is the zero set of the degree-six polynomial equation (x2 + y2)(x2 + y2d2)2 + 4a2y2(x2 + y2b2) = 0 and has the lemniscate of Bernoulli as a special case.

See also[edit]

  • Analemma, the figure-eight shaped curve traced by the noontime positions of the sun in the sky over the course of a year
  • Lorenz attractor, a three-dimensional dynamic system exhibiting a lemniscate shape
  • Polynomial lemniscate, a level set of the absolute value of a complex polynomial
  • Lemniscates as Generalized conics


  1. ^ a b c d Schappacher, Norbert (1997), "Some milestones of lemniscatomy", Algebraic Geometry (Ankara, 1995), Lecture Notes in Pure and Applied Mathematics 193, New York: Dekker, pp. 257–290, MR 1483331 .
  2. ^ a b Erickson, Martin J. (2011), "1.1 Lemniscate", Beautiful Mathematics, MAA Spectrum, Mathematical Association of America, pp. 1–3, ISBN 9780883855768 .
  3. ^ Bos, H. J. M. (1974), "The lemniscate of Bernoulli", For Dirk Struik, Boston Stud. Philos. Sci., XV, Dordrecht: Reidel, pp. 3–14, MR 774250 .
  4. ^ Langer, Joel C.; Singer, David A. (2010), "Reflections on the lemniscate of Bernoulli: the forty-eight faces of a mathematical gem", Milan Journal of Mathematics 78 (2): 643–682, doi:10.1007/s00032-010-0124-5, MR 2781856 .
  5. ^ Basset, Alfred Barnard (1901), "The Lemniscate of Gerono", An elementary treatise on cubic and quartic curves, Deighton, Bell, pp. 171–172 .
  6. ^ Chandrasekhar, S (2003), Newton's Principia for the common reader, Oxford University Press, p. 133, ISBN 9780198526759 .
  7. ^ Costa, Luisa Rossi; Marchetti, Elena (2005), "Mathematical and Historical Investigation on Domes and Vaults", in Weber, Ralf; Amann, Matthias Albrecht, Aesthetics and architectural composition : proceedings of the Dresden International Symposium of Architecture 2004, Mammendorf: Pro Literatur, pp. 73–80 .
  8. ^ Darling, David (2004), "devil's curve", The Universal Book of Mathematics: From Abracadabra to Zeno's Paradoxes, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 91–92, ISBN 9780471667001 .

External links[edit]